Kolkata, A day after he was bailed out on completing a ten-year sentence, pro-Maoist leader Chhatradhar Mahato – who spearheaded a violent tribal movement in West Bengal’s Jangalmahal areas – on Sunday lauded chief minister Mamata Banerjee for her development efforts in the region and said he would re-launch the struggle by reposing faith in her.
Mahato, arrested in 2009, was bailed out on Saturday in a case in Jharkhand, days after he completed his ten-year prison term on various charges under the Indian Penal Code, including under the stringent Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA).
He walked out of the SSKM hospital, where he was under medical treatment for the last few months of his incarceration, after the authorities in the Presidency Correctional Home okayed his release on receiving the bail papers from Jharkhand in connection with a case in Ghatshila.
Mahato, whose proximity to the Trinamool Congress has been speculated upon over the last one year of his prison term, thanked the state government for solving a number of problems in Jangalmahal (stretches of forest in mainly three districts – West Midnapore, Purulia and Bankura – as also some parts of Birbhum).
“After 11 long years, I am entering a new life. Naturally, I feel great. I had lot of dreams about Jangalmahal. I want to renew my struggle for realising the dreams of the people there, and stand by them, in the way they wish, to relieve their sorrows and sufferings. I hope people will accept me,” he said.
Mahato said he has some idea about the situation in Jangalmahal and the improvement in the condition of the people through the print media.
“I don’t know how of much of that is true, but I’d thank the present government for resolving a substantial part of the problems in the area which prompted us to start our movement,” he said.
Mahato said his wishes for Jangalmahal were similar to those nurtured by Banerjee. My wishes for Jangalmahal are similar to those of didi (elder sister – as Banerjee is affectionately called). So I want to be a part of the struggle by reposing confidence in didi,” he said.
Before his arrest in 2009, Mahato was the convener of the Maoist-backed tribal group Peoples’ Committee Against Police Atrocities (PCAPA) in West Midnapore district’s Lalgarh area – about 200 kms west of Kolkata – that saw a violent movement against the erstwhile Left Front government.
Lalgarh was on the boil for over two years since November 2, 2008, when a landmine exploded on the route of the convoy of then state chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and central ministers Ram Vilas Paswan and Jitin Prasada.
Complaining of police atrocities after the blast, angry tribals egged on by the Maoists launched an agitation virtually cutting off the area from the rest of the district.
The agitators torched CPI-M offices, drove away its supporters and forced the police to leave, thereby establishing a virtual free zone. In Jun 2009, the joint forces comprising central paramilitary troopers and crack teams of state police reclaimed the areas and conducted intense operations to flush out the left-wing ultras.
There were a spate of arrests while a number of PCAPA and Maoist leaders were killed in shootouts with the security forces.Mahato was nabbed on September 26, 2009, by the police, posing as journalists.
The movement gradually died down. In 2015, Mahato and three of his comrades were given life sentences by the court of additional sessions judge (West Midnapore), under the UAPA, and various IPC provisions dealing with murder, criminal conspiracy, waging war against the state and various other sections of the Arms Act and the Explosives Act.
But in August last year, the Calcutta High Court reduced their sentence to ten years. Sources said a number of cases in which Mahato has been booked are still sub-judice, and he would have to fight them while on bail.
It is learnt the Trinamool wants to use Mahato’s influences and contacts to take on the BJP in tribal-dominated Jangalmahal where the saffron outfit had won four seats – Midnapore, Jhargram, Bankura and Purulia – in last year’s Lok Sabha polls.