Murshidabad strongman and minister of state, railways

National

In Murshidabad district of West Bengal, there is said to be no opposition to Adhir Ranjan Chowdury, now Minister of State for Railways. The district Congress chief has faced criminal charges, including some of murder, been declared an absconder in one case, gone to jail in another, and maintained his grip all through. Such is his clout that since 1998, the Baharampur municipality has had only Congress members for three successive terms.

The most sensational case in which he has been implicated was that of the 2005 twin murders of Laltu Sheikh and Hanif Shekh, hoteliers of Baharampur. He spent a month and a half in jail that year, secured bail, and was eventually acquitted two years later.

The hoteliers were once with Adhir's party before they switched allegiance to the CPM. They allegedly ran a network of touts in the district hospital, which was right next to their hotel, and remained in control after changing sides. On July 15, 2005, they were winding up for the night when a group of men barged into the hotel and murdered them brutally, both hacking and shooting them.

Chowdhury, arrested from his home in Delhi that November, was acquitted by the Calcutta High Court in 2007. A district police official said they are still looking at possible grounds for moving the court to reopen the case. Adhir said from New Delhi, "I will quit as minister if the charges are proved."

He had been implicated in murder cases before. In 1996, though he had been implicated in the murder of CPM leader Manab Saha in Baharampur town and was supposedly absconding, Adhir contested the Assembly election from Nabagram, Murshidabad, with his recorded voice playing out on microphones during campaigns. He went on to sweep the seat, winning by 22,000 votes. Police sources The Indian Express spoke to could not immediately recall the outcome of that case.

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