Chhatradhar Mahato represents not just the Maoist face of the election in West Bengal,specifically the Junglemahal belt,but also the way political equations have changed there.
The jailed leader,brother of slain CPI (Maoist) state committee member Sasahadhar Mahato,is contesting from Jhargram in West Midnapore. Chhatradhar Mahato is an Independent candidate,not because he wished it that way but because he was allegedly ditched by the Trinamool Congress,with which he had been known to be close. The Trinamool,for its part,alleges that he is now being backed by the CPM.
He had spearheaded the tribal movement in Lalgarh following the Netai massacre of nine villagers. At that time,his close aides said,Trinamool leaders had met him frequently and supported his movement. But after he was jailed and he sought a Trinamool ticket,they said,the party turned him down.
Chhatradhar Mahato,arrested over a year ago,has 38 cases against him. He is contesting under the banner of a new organisation,the Democratic Platform against Terror,Corruption and Imperialist Aggression. It is as much a Maoist front as the organisation that he had originally founded,the Peoples Committee Against Police Atrocities (PCAPA). All PCAPA members are now in the new organisation.
We started late, admits Ashok Jiban Ghosh,convener of the new organisation,and we have little funds.
They have set up an election office in a small cottage at Baro Pelia village and are campaigning with about 200 flags and 35 banners.
We have got a basket symbol and kept the bow and arrow out of the flag, says Ghosh. We are trying to get court permission for Chhatradhar to address at least one meeting. In his absence,Chhatradhars wife Niyati Mahato has been addressing public meetings.
In charge of the campaign is Shyamal Mahato,himself released from jail 10 days ago: Dada never wanted to contest the election as an Independent, he confirms. We were ditched by the Trinamool. From jail,Dada sent several feelers to senior Trinamool leaders for talks on the polls but no one responded. Even when Dada brought up the demands of the PCAPA,they did not respond. This was when Dada decided to contest independently.
Sisir Adhikari,MP,handling the Trinamools election affairs in Junglemahal,explains why the party chose not to field Chhatradhar Mahato. He is in custody and he cannot be a peoples representative, he says. We cannot field a candidate who is in jail; this may work elsewhere but not in Bengal. Moreover,if he wants to be in our party,he has to follow party discipline,but he did not agree.
He concedes that Mahato had a relation with the Trinamool Congress. After he was denied a seat,he shifted allegiance. He has been fielded by the CPM to divide our votes, he says.
CPM district committee member Dahareswar Sen counters,Chhatradhar Mahatos decision to contest exposes cracks in the alliance between the Trinamool and Maoists. The Trinamool alleges we are with Mahato,but how can we back those responsible for the death of 250 of our supporters?
The Maoists themselves are divided. A faction in Bankura and Purulia has called for a poll boycott and is questioning why those in West Midnapore are backing Chhatradhar Mahato as a candidate. A source close to Maoists in Midnapore says,We are against parliamentary democracy,we have understood that a thin line divides the Trinamool and the CPM,but we will stick to our plan. We support Chhatradhar.
Chhatradhar Mahato has described Mamata Banerjee as being unnecessarily harsh about his candidature. In a two-page letter from jail,he has questioned her silence on the alleged torture of PCAPA members in Junglemahal.