Senior Maoist leader Suchitra Mahato, a close aide of Communist Party of India (Maoist) Polit Bureau member Koteswara Rao, alias Kishenji, surrendered in the presence of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee at the State Secretariat here on Friday.

“For all these days I believed in the Maoist politics and have spent long years in the forests. But today I want to leave that politics behind me,” Ms. Mahato told journalists with Ms. Banerjee by her side.

Ms. Mahato was with Kishenji when he was killed in the encounter on November 24 last year in the Burisole forest area in the State's Paschim Medinipur district. Although the police said they believed that an injured Ms. Mahato managed to flee, speculation was rife that she had been apprehended.

“No, I was not caught,” Ms. Mahto said when asked by journalists. “I have surrendered today.” She had been living in villages on the run all these days. She was “unwell” and would not be able to say much, she said.

Describing the surrender as “a huge Holi present,” the Chief Minister said that “an important leader of the Maoist movement” had taken the initiative to return to the mainstream. She urged other “brothers and sisters who are wielding weapons to lay down their arms.” Ms. Banerjee said that “for the sake of a larger unity” she wanted the State to develop as a model of peace.

She said Ms. Mahato had received a bullet injury in her abdomen during the November 24 encounter and the first priority was to ensure that she received proper medical care. The several cases pending against her would be dealt with according to “legal procedure” and “according to the government rules.”

Ms. Mahato's surrender comes a year after her late husband Sashadhar Mahato, senior Maoist leader and a close associate of Kishenji, was killed in an encounter on March 10 last year.

Last month she married Prabir Gorai, a resident of Dhanshala village in the Lalgarh area of Paschim Medinipur district. They surrendered together at the State Secretariat. Mr. Gorai was also a member of the movement against alleged police atrocities in Lalgarh, but does not have as many cases pending against him.

“Her reasons for surrendering are manifold and cannot be summarised into one statement in one day. It is not solely for the State's development. But it will be better if she were to say that,” Mr. Gorai said cryptically.

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