An Express Series: Next to lotus on a wall, a death, a piece of land and a web of politics

NHRC report on Bengal violence has become the latest flashpoint. The Indian Express tracks down four illustrative incidents, an alleged murder, rape, arson and social boycott. How political fault-lines — and the state’s response — play on the ground.

Standing at the narrow door of their small house in Bhatpara, North 24 Parganas district, Swapna Yadav, 17, shows the tiny lawn where her uncle Joy Prakash Yadav (28) died, hit on the head by a crude bomb a month into the West Bengal results.

The family alleges that Joy Prakash was one of the victims of the violence unleashed by the Trinamool after its return to power, as he was a BJP worker and a lotus symbol adorns a wall of their house. While police have arrested two people, including one alleged to have links with both the TMC and BJP, the family claims the “mastermind” was a TMC worker who roams free. Swapna says police only collected evidence such as the phone on which she recorded a video of the incident two days ago.

In its report submitted to the Calcutta High Court on the post-poll violence in Bengal, the findings of which came out Thursday, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) accused the Mamata Banerjee government of letting violence prevail in the period since the results, and recommended a CBI probe and trial outside the state in the serious cases.

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Joy Prakash’s death is an illustrative case.

Soon after the 28-year-old was killed in the attack on June 6, most senior leaders of the BJP had raised the issue, with images of his body. “Violence continues after the elections in West Bengal! TMC miscreants bombed and killed BJP activist Joy Prakash Yadav… The death of Democracy in Bengal, freedom strangled!” tweeted the BJP state unit.

Employed with a real estate company in Rajarhat alongwith his father Mishri Lal Yadav, Joy Prakash hung out with BJP leaders and was known to have friendly relations with BJP Bhatpara MLA Pawan Singh, the son of BJP Barrackpore MP Arjun Singh.

June 6 was a Sunday, the Yadav family recalls, and they had just had their lunch when there was a loud banging at the door. Joy Prakash answered the door, and two people allegedly started abusing him. As he stepped out, the men then took a bomb and struck him on the head. Joy Prakash died on the spot. He is survived by his wife Sangita (27), children Anuj (6) and Anushka (3), and his parents.

“I recorded the men on my phone… I ran behind them but they escaped,” says Swapna, who is the key eyewitness in the case, her voice choking. In the video she has on her phone, before the sound of the bomb going off, a man can be heard saying, “… forget police…. You are doing too much BJP, BJP… leave it.” He also accuses Joy Prakash of having encroached upon the land where his house stood.

Police are pursuing this line of investigation. Dhrubajyoti De, Joint Commissioner of Police, Barrackpore, said: “We haven’t found anything political so far, it could be linked to a land dispute.”

An official who is part of the investigation said, “Prima facie, the Yadav house is built on railway land. They had also built other houses and given them out on rent. A night before the incident, the accused had an altercation with Joy Prakash over construction of a house on the land.” He admitted there was a mention of a party in the video clip of the incident, and hence they were “probing from all angles”.

In her complaint, Joy Prakash’s mother Rajmati Devi, who says she was standing behind him at the time of the blast and now has hearing loss, named three persons, Tuntun Choudhury, an unknown person later identified as Animesh Pal, and TMC workers Chandan Singh and Lallan Singh. Tuntun and Animesh are under arrest. Tuntun is known to have ties to both the BJP and TMC, and several cases of bombing against him, as per an officer.

The FIR was filed under IPC Sections 302 ( murder), 326 (voluntarily causing grievous hurt by dangerous weapons), 307 (attempt to murder), 120 B (criminal conspiracy) and 34 (act by several persons in furtherance of common intention) and under the Explosive Substances Act.

MLA Pawan Singh says Joy Prakash was “close to us”. “He was not directly a member of the BJP but we shared a great relationship.”

On TMC claims that Tuntun was close to his father Arjun Singh, Pawan says he had started working for the BJP when his father moved to it from the TMC, but adds, “There are thousands of followers of Arjun Singh, doesn’t mean he has got anything to do with this incident. Post Assembly by-elections in 2019, Tuntun had rejoined the TMC and is close to its workers Chandan Singh and Lallan Singh. Tuntun was used in this murder to fulfill both personal and political grudges. We have been following up with police but the investigation has shown no big development.”

TMC Jagdal Town president Jitu Shaw denies any links between Tuntun and the party, stressing his ties with Arjun Singh. Calling the murder the fallout of a land dispute, he says, “Chandan Singh is from the TMC but he has no hand in it… No one from the TMC has any role in the murder.”

Family members deny the suggestion that the murder could be the result of a land dispute. “You can ask anyone… my son was not into any illegal things. He was a simple family man. Who will look after his two children now?” says Joy Prakash’s father Mishri Lal, appealing to Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee to ensure a “fair” investigation.

Brother-in-law Sanjiv Yadav says they had written to the NHRC seeking to meet it, but couldn’t.

While the lane where the Yadavs live is narrow, with one-storey houses sharing common walls, the neighbours say they didn’t see or hear anything that day, while others say they don’t want to get involved. One of them, on condition of anonymity, said, “I was sleeping. I work as house help and had rented a house from the Yadavs. I have no clue how Joy Prakash was murdered.”

Saying her husband wasn’t a political person, Sangita fears everyone has just moved on, including the two parties. “Pawan Singh visited our home and gave Rs 5 lakh. But now we are left alone to fight this battle for the rest of our lives,” she says, breaking down.

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