Kolkata: Nearly three decades after he was accused of attempting to murder present West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee, a former youth wing leader of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) was acquitted by a Kolkata court on Thursday due to lack of evidence.
According to the prosecution, on 16 August 1990, prime accused Lalu Alam hit Banerjee, who was a Congress leader at the time, on the head with a stick during a rally at Hazra Crossing in Kolkata. The impact fractured her skull and left her fighting for her life in hospital for over a month.
Observers say the incident proved to be a major turning point in Banerjee’s political career as it sparked a wave of support for her. A year later, she won the general elections from the Calcutta South constituency and was appointed the minister of state for human resource development, youth affairs and sports, and women and child development by the-then prime minister PV Narasimha Rao.
Authorities booked a dozen people but, except Alam, the others either went on the run or eventually died. After completing the investigation, police submitted the charge sheet in Alipore court while issuing arrest warrants against the fugitives.
The statements of Mamata Banerjee and other witnesses were recorded. The Trinamool Congress chairperson’s supporters say the case progressed sluggishly as the CPI(M)-led Left Front was in power at the time in West Bengal.
In an interview to a television channel in 2011, after she became chief minister by ending 34 years of Left rule in the state, Banerjee recalled that 16 August 1990 was the only day when she left home without telling her mother where she was headed. Alam met her after her election victory and apologised, claiming that he was forced by the CPI(M) to attack her. However, Banerjee did not pardon him and persisted with the case.
The prosecution lawyer urged the court that the hearing be conducted through videoconferencing because of security reasons, but the defence attorney said he wanted witnesses to be physically present in a bid to question them.
The judgement was pronounced by additional district judge Pushpal Satpathi, who decided to acquit Alam due to lack of evidence.
Speaking to News18, Maity said, “My client Lalu Alam was acquitted because the Hon’ble Judge felt that there is lack of evidence and most importantly the Hon’ble Judge noticed that the key witness in the case, Mamata Banerjee, didn’t appear in the court during hearing for the last 20 years.”
The chief minister was not present in court on Thursday. Sources said she was busy with some official engagements. When contacted, her lawyer Shyamdas Gangopadhyay said, “Yes, Lalu Alam was acquitted by the Alipore Court due to lack of evidence. Most of the accused died while some of them are absconding. I would like to clarify that she could not appear in court during hearings because some documents were misplaced.”
In the past few years, Banerjee had expressed a desire to pardon Alam and party sources said she wanted to end the case on humanitarian grounds, citing the deteriorating health of the accused who is now over sixty years old.
Following the judgement, Alam broke into tears. “I would like to thank everybody, including chief minister Mamata Banerjee and ‘judge saheb’ for my acquittal,” he said. “For the last many years, I was living in fear. Today I am a free man.”
A senior CPI (M) leader, who wished to remain anonymous, said, “Soon after the incident on 16 August 1990, we expelled Lalu Alam from the party for his act. He is in no way related to the party anymore.”
At the time, Alam was a branch secretary of the Democratic Youth Federation of India, an affiliate of the CPI(M).