Chhatradhar Mahato, a former Lalgarh movement leader, on Thursday welcomed the Trinamool Congress’ decision to induct him in its 21-member State Steering Committee.
“This is a timely decision. The party needs to be turned around and rearranged. I am getting a phenomenal response from the people of Junglemahal. I am sure TMC will return to power,” he said.
A forested area comprising parts of Paschim Medinipur, Purulia, Bankura, and Jhargram is referred to as Jangalmahal, and was once a hotbed of Maoist activities.
With Thursday’s announcement, CM and TMC chairperson Mamata Banerjee brought Mahato, a former Maoist sympathiser, into the party fold in an effort to boost the TMC’s chances in the region in the 2021 Assembly polls.
Mahato, who got out of prison on bail in February 2020, told The Indian Express, “At the end of the meeting, Partha da [TMC’s Secretary General Partha Chatterjee] called up and said I have been included in the party’s State Steering Committee. I will carry out the responsibility given by the party. I want to be with the common people and can work anywhere.”
Jhargram has seen a saffron surge since last year’s panchayat elections. In the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the TMC lost Junglemahal to BJP. According to TMC’s internal assessment, infighting was the main reason behind the party’s defeat.
Sources said the TMC was banking on Mahato’s leadership and hoping that his popularity would give the party an opportunity to regain its ground in the region. The party wants Mahato to be its face in Junglemahal in the poll campaign.
More than a decade ago, Mahato was the face of the Lalgarh movement against alleged police atrocities under the then CPM-led government in the state. He led the People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities, allegedly a Maoist front, that spearheaded the tribal movement and forced the security forces to vacate their camps in the area. He was arrested in 2009, and convicted on several charges, including sedition, sections of the Arms Act and Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. After spending 11 years in jail, Mahato is now out on bail.
His former aides expressed happiness about his new role. Close associate Dilip Hembram said, “It was a very good decision. Chhatradhar is the man who can change people’s mind here. He is the natural leader of Junglemahal.”
A senior TMC leader said, “Jhargram was not much affected during cyclone Amphan. So, the area did not witness any allegations of corruption in relief distribution. Covid situation is also better in comparison to any other district.
Meanwhile, we also regained many areas of Jhargram with Chhatradhar’s help. With his rise, many old corrupt TMC leaders will be sidelined. This will also help the party regain its popularity.”