Chhatradhar Mahato released from prison

The Bengal leader was arrested in 2009

One of West Bengal’s most significant leaders Chhatradhar Mahato, who emerged from non-mainstream politics and led a successful people’s movement, was released from jail on Saturday. He immediately went to his hometown in Lalgarh on the Bengal-Jharkhand border, an epicentre of the Maoist movement a decade back.

Mr. Mahato, the main leader of the People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities (PCAPA), was arrested in 2009 for building up a movement against the CPI(M) with the help of the outlawed Maoist party. He was convicted in 2015 and sentenced to life imprisonment. Opposing police excesses in Jhargram district, he led a tribal movement which catapulted him to prominence. At one point, he allegedly coordinated with the Maoists on one hand and the Trinamool Congress’ (TMC) leaders on the other, to build up resistance against the CPI(M) government.

People’s movement

The popular people’s movement under the banner of the PCAPA flagged alleged atrocities committed by local CPI(M) leaders over the years and the administrations’ high-handed approach. He was arrested, but the CPI(M) was also defeated in the area. Despite being in jail, Mr. Mahato contested in the 2011 Assembly polls and bagged nearly 20,000 votes, which “was an indication of his popularity in Jangalmahal,” Mr. Mahato’s wife Niyoti told The Hindu in 2016.

However, following his arrest and the killing of Maoist leader Mallojula Koteswara Rao (Kishenji), the people’s movement in the western districts of has Bengal fizzled out. The TMC also partially lost grip in the backward tribal areas of Jhargram and Purulia.

In the panchayat poll of 2018, the BJP bagged 42% and 33% seats in Jhargram and the adjacent Purulia respectively, far higher than its State average of 18%. In the 2019 Lok Sabha poll, the TMC lost both the Jhargram and Purulia seats to the BJP and even the adjacent ones, partly dominated by the tribals.

“In this context, many in the area believe that Mr. Mahato can play a significant role in the area. He may form a party which can pull a percentage of anti-TMC tribal votes, which in the last elections went to the BJP,” said a CPI-Maoist sympathiser.

However, it would depend on Mr. Mahato’s crowd-pulling ability and “no one knows if he still is as popular as he was at the time of his arrest”.

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Printable version | Apr 8, 2020 12:21:35 PM |

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