Who is Sheikh Shahjahan, the controversial TMC leader of Sandeshkhali in West Bengal? | Kolkata - Hindustan Times

Who is Sheikh Shahjahan, the controversial TMC leader of Sandeshkhali in West Bengal?

Feb 29, 2024 10:59 AM IST

Local TMC leaders said the rise of 45-year-old Shahjahan has been meteoric, and according to many, he was more powerful than many MLAs and ministers

Sheikh Shahjahan, the Trinamool Congress (TMC) strongman of Sandeshkhali in North 24 Parganas, was arrested by the state police early on Thursday morning after almost two months of being on the run. But who is this controversial leader who has been absconding since January 5?

TMC strongman Sheikh Shahjahan. (Image from social media)
TMC strongman Sheikh Shahjahan. (Image from social media)

Local TMC leaders said the rise of 45-year-old Shahjahan has been meteoric. He joined the party in 2013, two years after the Mamata Banerjee-led party came to power in the state ousting the Left Front government.

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According to local sources, Shahjahan used to work as a driver and sometimes a helper of trekkers, collecting fares from passengers in Sandeshkhai and Sarberia in his early days. He grew under the shadow of his maternal uncle Moslem Sheikh, who was a panchayat-level CPI(M) leader.

“Shahjahan gradually entered the fish trade and started controlling the fish farms in the area. As his empire grew, he also started building his own army comprising village youths. He used to keep in touch with local party leaders and helped them during elections,” a villager said.

His popularity and power were spotted by former state minister and TMC leader Jyoti Priya Mallick after the TMC came to power in 2011. Mallick is now in jail for his alleged involvement in the multi-crore ration distribution scam.

“Shahjahan, known to be a close associate of Mallick, joined the TMC in 2013. Since then he gained immense popularity in the party. According to many, he was more powerful than many MLAs and ministers,” another villager said.

Such was his clout that ED officials who came to search his house on January 5 were attacked by a mob of 800-1,000 people. Three officials were injured and Shahjahan had been on the run since then. He is alleged to have masterminded the attack sitting in his house and making multiple calls within a few minutes.

“Such was his influence that if any villager went to the police to lodge a complaint against any TMC men, the cops would advise him to approach Shahjahan. He was popularly known as ‘bhai’. It was he who ensured that Sandeshkhali became free of any opposition. If he is removed, the political equation may change in the future,” said a police official.

State advocate general Kishore Datta informed the Calcutta high court earlier this week that 43 FIRs involving him were registered in the last four years. While the police have submitted charge sheets in 42 cases, he has been shown absconding in some.

Not much is known about his educational qualification. Even the document which he submitted during the 2023 panchayat polls doesn’t mention anything about his educational background.

The documents, however, reveal that he claims to be a businessman with an annual income of around 19.8 lakh and bank deposits of more than 1.9 crore. A father of three children, he owns around 43 bighas of land (worth around 4 crore) and a house in Sarberia, worth around 1.5 crore. He also owns at least 17 bikes.

Sheikh, known as ‘Matsa Karmadhakshya’ (in-charge of fisheries) in North 24 Parganas, oversees the district’s fishery development, reflecting his influential standing in both political and economic spheres.

Pressure, however, has been mounting on the TMC after villagers, mostly women, hit the streets demanding his arrest. The Calcutta high court also expressed surprise on multiple occasions as to why Shahjahan wasn’t arrested.

Even though the opposition has been alleging that the Mamata Banerjee government was shielding him, the state government maintained that he couldn’t be arrested because of a stay order on his arrest by the Calcutta HC.

Brushing aside claims made by TMC leaders that police were not being able to arrest him because of a stay order, the high court on Monday said that it hadn’t passed any order restraining the police from arresting the TMC strongman. On Wednesday the court gave the CBI and ED a green signal to arrest him.

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