Mamata Banerjee today visited a village in Bengal’s Birbhum where eight people – all women and children – were burnt alive by a mob on Tuesday, and said the suspects would be hunted down if they did not surrender. Battling a furious political backlash over the savage killings and accused by the opposition BJP of condoning political violence, the Chief Minister also alleged that “something big” was behind the incident.

“I never believed something so barbaric can happen in modern Bengal. Mothers and children were killed. Your family members died but my heart has been crushed…,” Mamata Banerjee said, surrounded by the family members and relatives of those killed, besides villagers.

Alleging a bigger conspiracy, she called for “stringent action” and said the police would investigate the killings “from all angles”.

“Police will ensure strictest punishment is handed out to culprits responsible for the Rampurhat carnage. The case filed before the court should be watertight,” Ms Banerjee said.

She summoned a top police officer right there and instructed him to punish policemen found negligent in responding to complaints.

“I don’t want any excuses that people have run away. I want people responsible to be arrested and policemen to be punished for lapses. Witnesses must be given protection by police from possible attacks. Those whose homes have been burnt must be given ₹ 1 lakh to repair the houses,” she said. She later revised the amount to ₹ 2 lakh as the families complained it was not enough.

Ms Banerjee also promised permanent jobs to the affected families and distributed cheques.

The Chief Minister ordered the police to arrest local Trinamool leader Anarul Shiekh in connection with the killings.

Six women and two children were locked in their homes and burnt alive by a mob on Tuesday at village Bogtui near Rampurhat town, in what was believed to be retaliation after a local Trinamool Congress leader, Bhadu Sheikh, was killed in a crude bomb attack. Charred bodies were found a day later, mostly belonging to one family.

Many fled the village after the incident, allegedly fearing reprisals or arrest. Two FIRs were filed – one over the Trinamool leader’s murder, and the other over the killing of villagers.

Though the two incidents have seeded a political row, many villagers claim a local rivalry provoked the violence.

Mamata Banerjee had earlier vowed strict action, “regardless of political colours”, as she came under attack from the BJP. She said the state government had set up a special investigation team and some 20 people had been arrested. The BJP, however, demanded a central investigation, the sacking of the Chief Minister and President’s Rule.

Yesterday, the Calcutta High Court stepped in and said not enough was being done to catch those responsible for the attack, and ordered the state government to protect witnesses and set up CCTV cameras at the site. The court also asked the state government to file a report.

According to news agency PTI, Bhadu Sheikh’s sons are among the suspects picked up by the police.

Since Tuesday, several political leaders, mainly from the BJP, have visited the village along with TV crew.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, at an event last evening, described the killings as “heinous” and said those responsible for them should not be forgiven.

PM Modi said his government was willing to help the state in any way to bring the accused to justice.

“I hope that the state government will definitely ensure that those who have committed such heinous crimes are punished,” the PM said.

“I would also urge the people of Bengal to never forgive the perpetrators of such incidents, those who encourage such criminals. The centre would extend all sorts of help to the state government to ensure the culprits are booked,” he added.

Mamata Banerjee has, more than once, alleged a conspiracy to defame her government.

“It was an attempt by the BJP, Left and the Congress to malign our government… Strict action will be taken against all those responsible for the Birbhum incident, irrespective of their (political) colour,” she said on Wednesday.

1CommentsWithout naming anyone, Ms Banerjee said that the incident was orchestrated because “they failed to cause a riot”.,