NIA arrests Maoist-turned-Trinamool leader Chhatradhar Mahato for 2009 murder a day after first phase of Assembly election in West Bengal

Published : March 28, 2021 18:41 IST

Maoist-turned-Trinamool Congress leader Chhatradhar Mahato being produced in a court by the NIA after his arrest in connection with the murder of a CPI(M) leader in 2009 and another case, in Kolkata on March 28. Photo: PTI

Maoist-turned-Trinamool leader Chhatradhar Mahato was arrested by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) from his residence in Lalgarh, Paschim Medinipur, in the early morning of March 28. The Central agency had earlier sent summons to Chhatradhar in connection with the murder of a leader of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in 2009. Chhatradhar, an influential figure in the tribal community of Paschim Medinipur, was expected to play a key role in the Assembly election in the region. His arrest, which came a day after the first phase of voting, has been seen as “politically motivated” by the ruling Trinamool Congress.

Chhatradhar Mahato, once convener of the Maoist-backed People’s Committee against Police Atrocities (PCPA), was arrested on September 25, 2009, from Lalgarh at the peak of Maoist activities in the State. Several charges under sections of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), 1967, were slapped on him for his association with the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist). Mahato came under the spotlight after he led violent protests against police arrests following an unsuccessful assassination attempt on the then Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya in November 2008 near Lalgarh.

At that time, Mamata, who was then in the opposition, was perceived to have had friendly relations with Mahato and his PCPA. She had even shared the dais with him in early 2009. However, subsequently she was seen to be distancing herself from him and his organisation. Even after she came to power in 2011, Mahato remained in prison.

After spending more than 10 years behind bars, Mahato was released on bail in February 2020. In July he was inducted into the State Committee of the Trinamool, a moved viewed by political observers as a desperate attempt by the ruling party to try and win back the support of the people of the Jangalmahal region (the contiguous forested area of Bankura, Purulia, Jhargram and Paschim Medinipur).

The Trinamool is viewing Mahato’s arrest as a “politically motivated” move by the BJP at the Centre to hurt the ruling party during the election. Party spokesperson Kunal Ghosh said, “It would have been understandable if Chhatradhar was arrested in connection with any recent crime…. Summoning him just before the elections, and arresting him while elections are on, is providing the scope to raise allegations of a political conspiracy.” Dilip Ghosh, BJP State president and Lok Sabha MP, said, “There were UAPA cases against Chhatradhar Mahato. The State government itself had arrested him and kept him in jail. He is also accused of murder. The NIA must have found more evidence on the basis of their investigation and so have arrested him.”