In the world of realpolitik where relationships are made and unmade based on political expediency, Sambia Sohrab found out the hard way that spoils of power and flashy lifestyle that he took for granted are as fickle as English weather. Accused by the police of being the man behind the wheel of the Audi that broke through several police guardrails and allegedly mowed down IAF Corporal Abhimanyu Gaud on 13 January during the rehearsal for the Republic Day parade, a wary Sambia appeared disjointed when produced before the acting chief metropolitan magistrate at Bankshall court in Kolkata on Monday.
His demeanour betrayed anxiety and befuddlement, almost as if he still wasn't sure whether it was really happening to him.
His bail plea was rejected, he was charged with murder along with other serious offences and remanded in police custody for 14 days. After a four-day game of hide-and-seek during which a lookout notice was issued against his name, the Kolkata Police finally arrested him on Saturday night from near his in-laws' place at Beckbagan (or did he surrender as the BJP and Congress are claiming?).
Sambia's friend Sk Sanu, grandson of Bowbazar blast convict Rashid Khan, was subsequently picked up from Delhi on Monday morning while another friend Johnnie is still on the run. All three were allegedly in the SUV that besides taking the life of Corporal Gaud, also injured a female military personnel from the Army's marching contingent, said the police.
Given local Trinamool leader Mohammad Sohrab's power and pelf, if Sambia, the younger son, is still confused how his world came crashing down like a pack of cards since that fateful Wednesday, he has not understood the first lesson of political patronage.
Nothing is forever. Ask Madan Mitra.
Once Mamata Banerjee's trusted lieutenant, the hugely influential and networked former transport minister has been cooling his heels in jail after being arrested by the CBI for his alleged complicity in the Saradha chit fund scam. The chief minister had initially stood firmly behind her minister, launching a blistering attack against the Narendra Modi-led NDA government at the Centre and accused it of a "political vendetta".
"It is a conspiracy, a very dirty conspiracy, I ask the prime minister to put me in jail first... Situation in India is like Emergency now, new battle has begun. We accept your challenge, my government condemns Madan Mitra's arrest in the strictest of terms," she had said in December 2014.
But around a year later as Madan, stripped of ministership, continues to languish behind bars, Mamata underwent an apparent U-turn, announcing in a rally in Amta, Howrah: "Byakti chor hoy, kintu dol chor hoy na (Individuals can be thieves, but a party cannot be a thief)." She added, "If money lands illegally in a leader's hands, he and he alone is guilty of theft. The party won't take responsibility for personal corruption."
The Sohrabs' rise to prominence is a fascinating yet not unheard-of tale. Mohammad Sohrab’s father sold tender coconuts at Mechchua in Kolkata. From a fruit-trader, Sohrab rose up the ranks quickly and is said to be heading a mafia that rigs prices of fruit. Apart from controlling the Mechchua fruit market, he apparently has interests in real estate, nursing homes, hotels and is allegedly involved in hawala and drug rackets.
For someone who declared his total assets to be around Rs 76 lakh in the affidavit filed while contesting unsuccessfully on a JD (U) ticket in the 2011 Assembly polls, Sohrab's garage now has a clutch of top-line imported luxury wheels including Mercedes, BMW, Land Rover, Hummer and even a Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder.
Younger son and prime accused Sambia, though, reportedly doesn't share his elder brother's car fetish. His Facebook profile lists him as the proprietor of Amby International and the director of Aafreen group of companies. He's also a part of his family construction business and apparently visits China quite often. With money, comes power. Sohrab senior, an ex-RJD MLA, crossed over into the Trinamool Bhavan in 2013 at the behest of the then general secretary Mukul Roy.
Sambia's marriage on 5 January this year was apparently attended by top political leaders and even some Kolkata Police officers.
But Sambia committed two costly, unpardonable crimes. One was his doing, the other was an unhappy aligning of the stars.
After a night of pub-hopping with friends and an alcohol-fuelled speed rush, Sambia ran over an IAF officer. The Army wasn't going to take it lightly. It also guaranteed immediate and sustained media attention. With each passing day of non-arrests, the Kolkata Police came under huge pressure. The IAF made no bones about the fact that it was unhappy with the pace of the probe. Defence spokesperson Wing commander SS Birdi told CNN-IBN on Friday: “There’s a set of people with vested interest who do not want the investigation to proceed.”
Second, the incident happened close on the heels of Kaliachak violence in Malda for which the Mamata government had copped a lot of flak.
Accused of soft-pedalling on the culprits in Kaliachak because they were Muslims, and keen to avoid to any further controversy ahead of the upcoming Assembly polls in April-May, Mamata took no chances. Right from the first day when Abhimanyu Gaud was killed, the chief minister visited the hospital and called for "exemplary punishment".
From being a local Trinamool leader, Mohammad Sohrab quickly reverted to just a "fruit trader" and a "minor political activist" as the ruling Trinamool Congress desperately tried to preempt criticisms from rival parties and the media.
Even as local newspapers and TV channels flashed pictures of Mohammad Sohrab riding the campaign jeep of victorious mayoral candidate Sovan Chatterjee or sharing the stage with other TMC candidates, the ruling party issued a statement: "The owner of the car, reported to be driving it at the time of the incident, has no connection with Trinamool Congress. Neither the alleged driver of the car nor his father have ever attended formal, committee or organisational meetings of Trinamool Congress. Neither of them has ever been appointed to a post, or got a letter to this effect, from the party. We have nothing to do with them and have never had anything to do with them..."
The law will take its own course, say TMC leaders as Sambia faces punishment for his crime. If only it were the norm, not an exception in West Bengal.