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Pro-Naxal leader gives tough time to CPM in WB
Chhatradhar Mahato's entry into the electoral fray in Jhargram poses a tough challenge for CPM.
Jhargram (West Bengal): He is a jailed pro-Maoist leader, accused in at least 31 cases, who has stepped into the democratic process. Chhatradhar Mahato's entry into the electoral fray in this Maoist hotbed poses a tough challenge, admits his Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPM) opponent.
Chhatradhar, the founder convenor of the Peoples' Committee Against Police Atrocities (PCAPA), who spearheaded the Lalgarh movement in West Midnapore district, is contesting as an independent. And West Bengal's ruling party is worried about its chances in retaining the Jhargram assembly seat in the district.
"Chhatradhar Mahato's decision to participate in the democratic process and his recent statement that he will fight for the cause of the tribal people and against imperialism, corruption and atrocities have strengthened his support base among the tribals. He is my main opponent in this election," said CPM leader and sitting Jhargram legislator Amar Basu.
Jhargram goes to the polls on May 10 along with 13 other Maoist-affected constituencies in the last round of the six-phased elections. An electorate of 184,109 are eligible to cast their votes in 201 polling stations amid tight security.
Chhatradhar, who was jailed October 2009, is an accused in at least 31 cases under the Indian Penal Code (IPC), Arms Act and the Unlawful Activities (prevention) Act (UAPA).
"I have been campaigning in Jhargram against Chhatradhar's activities. Even if he gets elected would he be able to initiate development in the area when he himself is behind bars," wondered Basu. "The law and order situation of Jhargram, which witnessed a series of Maoist attacks and killings of hundreds of CPM leaders that forced several others to flee their houses in fear, has improved recently," he said.
Chhatradhar, now lodged in the Midnapore central correctional home, has entrusted his close aide and successor Manoj Mahato with the job of canvassing and countering the CPM propaganda. "We (PCAPA members) are very enthusiastic about Chhatradhar's decision to contest the polls. We are campaigning from dawn to dusk in the area. We are very confident of his victory," said Manoj.
A 74-point manifesto has been issued. It includes demands for restoration of peace and rule of law in the area, forest rights for tribals, development and a judicial inquiry into the killing of 240 people in "false" police encounters, including PCAPA president Lalmohan Tudu.
"We have appealed to intellectuals and civil society members who supported us during the Lalgarh movement to extend their support and campaign for Mahato. Already, Magsaysay awardee Mahasweta Devi, poet Sankha Ghosh and theatre personality Kaushik Sen have responded to our appeal and issued a leaflet appealing to people to vote for Mahato," said Manoj.
Some of them might be visiting Jhargram too to campaign for Chhatradhar.
Sen said it was good news that Chhatradhar was showing respect for democracy but he had decided not to campaign for any party.
"I have not voted this time and I think both the ruling and main opposition parties are not suitable enough to rule the state," said Sen, adding that he and Ghosh had signed a leaflet in support of Chhatradhar's candidature.
Chhatradhar had grabbed media headlines during the Lalgarh movement when his organisation opposed deployment of state police and central forces for conducting the 2009 Lok Sabha polls in entire Lalgarh, about 200 km west of Kolkata.
Lalgarh hit the headlines in 2008 when a landmine exploded on the route of the convoy of Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and two then central ministers - Ram Vilas Paswan and Jitin Prasada.
Alleging police atrocities after the blast, the Maoists, alongside the PCAPA, had launched an agitation and made the area a virtual "free zone" by torching police camps and offices of the ruling communists and driving out the civil administration.