NIA arrests blast suspects amid mob attack in WB; political slugfest between TMC, BJP

The opposition BJP alleged that it was a "state-sponsored" attack, and accused Banerjee of inciting violence.

Kolkata: A team of the NIA was allegedly attacked by a mob on Saturday when it went to arrest two main suspects in a 2022 blast case in West Bengal’s Purba Medinipur district, sparking a political slugfest with Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee accusing the investigators of assaulting the villagers.

The National Investigation Agency (NIA) said one of its officers was injured and a vehicle was damaged in the attack that happened in Bhupatinagar.

Banerjee said it was “self-defence” by villagers, alleging that the NIA team had barged into several houses in the early hours over an incident of “bursting of crackers in 2022”.

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Governor CV Ananda Bose, however, said the matter should be treated with all seriousness that it deserves “as any attempt to bully the investigating agencies does not bring credit to anyone”.

The opposition BJP alleged that it was a “state-sponsored” attack, and accused Banerjee of inciting violence.

The NIA said that in a breakthrough in the Bhupatinagar blast case, in which three persons were killed on December 3, 2022, two key conspirators — Balai Charan Maity and Manobrata Jana — were arrested after extensive searches at five locations.

The explosion ripped apart the kutcha house of Rajkumar Manna, who along with Biswajit Gayen and Buddhadeb Manna were grievously injured and later died.

The attack happened at Jana’s house with locals allegedly trying to obstruct the NIA team from moving towards the Bhupatinagar police station to complete the arrest formalities, officials said.

“Locals gheraoed the NIA vehicle and hurled stones at it,” a district police officer said.

However, they managed to reach the police station and complete the formalities, besides lodging a complaint.

The NIA said that Jana and Maity were found to have conspired to manufacture and explode crude bombs to spread terror.

The incident evoked memories of January 5 when a team of the Enforcement Directorate (ED) was attacked by a mob in North 24 Parganas district’s Sandeshkhali during a search at the house of TMC leader Shajahan Sheikh in connection with alleged irregularities in the public distribution system.

Addressing an election rally in Dakshin Dinajpur district’s Balurghat, the chief minister accused the NIA team of attacking villagers.

“The attack was not perpetrated by the women of Bhupatinagar, but rather by the NIA team,” she alleged.

“Will the women sit back if they (NIA) go to their houses at night? They will try to defend themselves,” she said.

Alleging that there was a political motive behind the NIA’s action, which was aimed at intimidating TMC workers, she questioned why the agency was arresting people days before the polls in a case dating back to December 2022.

Banerjee accused the BJP-led government at the Centre of trying to use central agencies to win the elections.

“We want the Election Commission to work impartially, not turn into a BJP-run commission,” she said.

Raising concern over the incident, Governor Bose said “muscle power” should not replace “legal power”.

“This is a very serious situation which has to be dealt with all the seriousness that it deserves. This kind of ‘goondaism’ should not be allowed. Muscle power should not replace legal power. This has to be dealt with an iron hand,” he told PTI.

The BJP alleged the incident was part of a design in which TMC engineers attacks on personnel of investigating agencies to hinder probe into its leaders’ misdeeds.

“TMC had also instigated similar attacks on ED personnel in Sandeshkhali. In the long run, the perpetrators of such attacks were arrested. Using a section of villagers to incite people against central agency personnel has become the hallmark of the party. This is a state-sponsored attack,” BJP leader Dilip Ghosh said.

Senior state minister Bratya Basu said that even the bursting of “chocolate bombs (crackers)” could lead to NIA investigations in West Bengal.

The TMC said a two-member delegation of the party will visit the area on Sunday.

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