It could well be completely coincidental, but the chain of events leading to the arrest on Saturday night of Sambia Sohrab, the prime accused in the Kolkata hit-and-run case in which an Air Force official was killed, is curious.
For almost four days since a speeding Audi Q7 mowed down IAF Corporal Abhimanyu Gaud during a Republic Day parade rehearsal in the early hours on Wednesday, Kolkata Police drew a blank.
It hadn't exactly been sitting idle, not after Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee — perhaps mindful of the approaching Assembly elections — called for stern action despite the accused being the son of a local TMC leader, but till Friday night police had little else to show except the formation of a 22-member SIT and a lookout notice against the absconding trio of Sambia, brother Ambia and their father, former RJD MLA Mohammad Sohrab.
Fruit trader Sohrab, whose 'net worth' was believed to be worth 'Rs 500 crore', was an RJD MLA of Kolkata's Burrabazar area but was inducted into Trinamool by Mukul Roy, the then all-India general secretary, in December 2013.
The delay in arrests created considerable consternation among the military and senior officers had expressed dismay at the slow pace of probe even in an era of huge technological advancements.
Amid conflicting reports from within Lalbazar, the Kolkata Police headquarters, on who was driving the car during the time of the incident, opposition parties started cranking up the pressure.
On Saturday, a 300-strong contingent of the BJP's women and youth wings marched to Lalbazar, demanding immediate arrest of the culprits behind the hit-and-run case.
They were led by Roopa Ganguly, the BJP women's wing chief, who accused the ruling party of "shielding the absconder".
"The people behind the accident are yet to be arrested. From the Park street rape to the Red Road incident, we've seen the ruling party give protection to the perpetrators. There's a complete breakdown of law and order," said Roopa, indicating that Sohrab's connection with TMC is linked with the delay in arrest, according to a report in The Telegraph, Calcutta.
Within 30 minutes of that march, the Trinmool Congress formally announced that the party had "no links with Mohammad Sohrab". "The owner of the car, reported to be driving it at the time of the incident, has no connection with Trinamool Congress. His father is a minor political activist, elected to the state Assembly with the support of the Left Front in 2006," spokesperson Derek O'Brien clarified in a statement.
Once again, within a few hours of the denial, two developments took place in quick succession.
One, after speaking in many voices and putting forward a-theory-a-day on who was in the killer SUV and whether or not he had co-passengers, the police dramatically made up its mind and finally named Sambia as the one at the wheel of the rampaging Audi.
Two, on Saturday night itself, the 24-year-old Sambia was arrested from the city's Beckbagan area.
According to the opposition though, the arrest is a mere "sham" and a desperate attempt by the police to save face after Sambia "surrendered at the advice of his lawyer".
“It’s not an arrest, rather its surrender. The argument that has been advanced by the police administration is simply frivolous and childish. For the last four days, everybody knows that the person who had mowed down our soldier is the son of a TMC leader, who has got patronage of the ruling regime,” Bengal Congress chief Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury told ANI.
Be that as it may, if there was any delay in arresting the accused, the police showed no such lethargy in producing Sambia in court on Sunday where his bail plea was rejected and he was remanded to police custody for 14 days.
In an indication of how seriously they are viewing a case of hit and run, the police charged Sambia under penal code sections 302 (murder), 307 (attempt to murder), 120B (criminal conspiracy), 201 (causing disappearance of evidence), 212 (harbouring an offender) and 427 (mischief), seeking to dispel the notion that anybody was being willfully shielded.
Police even sprung a surprise in the city court on Sunday, mentioning a second victim: a woman from the army's marching contingent whose arm the Audi had allegedly brushed during its wild run during the Republic Day parade rehearsal on 13 January.
And in a recent, quick development, a Special Task Force on Sunday night arrested the accused Sambia's ‘friend’ Shahnawaz Khan (Sanu) from Delhi.
Though belated, the string of actions letting the law run its course, seem to be aimed at denying the opposition an obvious stick to beat the ruling party with just months ahead of the polls.
The calculation was that Sohrab, who recorded substantial increase in influence and wealth and reportedly indulged both his sons' fast-car fetish, was not important enough for TMC to spend political capital on, especially in election season.
TMC's claim about Sohrab "not having joined the party ever", though, came under fire from both the opposition and media with the local newspapers and channels flashing pictures of the fruit trader's pictures with TMC leaders during their victory march after the Kolkata Municipal Polls in May last year.
"It is a matter of record that Mohammad Sohrab joined Trinamool Congress in 2013 with 500 people," CPIM leader Mohammad Salim told Firstpost.
"It's no use trying to say 'he isn't one of us'. It won't cut muster," he said.