Two rival gangs with alleged links to West Bengal’s ruling Trinamool Congress clashed in Birbhum district with bombs and guns on Friday, killing at least eight people.
Police said the toll might spike as villagers reported more bodies lying in the fields. Locals said the Darbarpur village – about 180 km to the North-West of Kolkata – turned into a battlefield for hours over control of sand beds, wounding several women and children.
“Our first priority is to restore peace and bring the situation under control. We are also conducting raids to recover weapons,” said Amlankusum Ghosh, sub-divisional police officer, Bolpur.
Clashes over control of dry river beds – which form the bedrock of a thriving illegal sand-mining industry – are not uncommon in these parts of Bengal but the scale of Friday’s violence stunned the administration.
A huge police contingent was deployed in the area. The gangs, villagers alleged, enjoyed the support of local Trinamool leaders.
According to locals, the victims could not be identified as most of the villagers fled after the clash that started in the morning and continued till late afternoon.
In Kolkata to attend a party conference, Trinamool district president Anubrata Mondal rubbished the allegation, saying goons backed by the CPI(M) had attacked Trinamool supporters. Former MP and CPI(M) district secretary, Ramchandra Dom, however said that rivalry between two gangs backed by the ruling party led to the violence.
The miscreants, local people said, came from the nearby Mirpur village and were headed by a person identified as Seikh Ahad. The groups first attacked each other with bombs in front of Dwarka High School where classes were on, locals said. The students and teachers locked themselves inside the building.
Later in the afternoon, fresh clashes started and four people died, police said. Some people also claimed a number of villagers were killed and injured when some miscreants were making bombs and the explosives went off by accident.
“There is no conflict inside our party and no one from our party is involved the clash. The CPI(M) is liable for the deaths. They did all this with support from the BJP,” alleged Anubrata Mondal. “Some miscreants backed by the CPI(M) had taken shelter in an abandoned house at Darbarpur. They attacked the villagers,” he added.
But opposition parties rubbished the defence. “Just a few days ago there was a clash in the Suri area over control of a sand bed and Trinamool Congress was behind it. Today, too, Trinamool supporters clashed over control of a sand bed. They are trying to shift the focus and give us a bad name,” said Ramkrishna Roy, local BJP leader.
Ramchandra Dom said: “It’s an old practice among Trinamool Congress leaders. They shift the blame on others.”