Updated: March 28, 2021 11:06:12 pm
Chhattradhar Mahato, the face of the Maoist-backed tribal movement of 2008-11 in Lalgarh, was arrested by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) early on Sunday.
Mahato was arrested in connection with an incident in which the Bhubaneswar Rajdhani Express was besieged and vandalised by alleged Maoist sympathisers for several hours in Jhargram district of West Bengal more than 11 years ago. The protesters, members of the People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities (PCAPA), were demanding the release of Mahato who had been arrested under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) a month previously.
Mahato, 57, was arrested hours after polling closed in the first phase in the West Bengal Assembly elections. Mahato, who had been freed on bail a few months ago, and had subsequently joined the Trinamool Congress, had cast his vote in Lalgarh. He had told reporters on Saturday that he had not been able to respond to summons served by the NIA earlier this month because he was unwell.
Sources said a team of 40 NIA personnel reached Mahato’s home when he and his family were asleep. Mahato’s wife has alleged that no documents were shown to the family before he was taken away.
The former convener of the PCAPA was produced before a local court in Kolkata on Sunday and was remanded in NIA custody until March 30.
“40-50 people broke open the door and entered my house. Everyone was sleeping then. They first snatched the mobile phones of all members of the family, and then picked him up. We initially could not understand whether they were NIA or BJP,” Mahato’s wife Niyoti Mahato told reporters.
Maoist to TMC leader
Mahato had emerged as Mamata Banerjee’s main lieutenant against the BJP in Jangalmahal. Sources said he was scheduled to campaign in Nandigram from where Banerjee is contesting against Trinamool-turned-BJP leader Suvendhu Adhikari. Nandigram votes in the second phase on April 1.
Mahato was arrested in 2009, and sentenced to life imprisonment in a murder case. “Although he is now a TMC leader, I would still say that this arrest is politically motivated. What kind of serious evidence could the NIA have suddenly found that he had to be arrested in a case that is almost 12 years old? Five hundred people stopped that train, but suddenly in the middle of the election, only Mahato has been arrested,” Ranjit Sur of the Association for Protection of Democratic Rights (APDR) said.
On October 27, 2009, PCAPA members stopped the Rajdhani at Banstala in Jhargram district. Mahato has been interrogated earlier by the NIA in the case.
Apart from the Rajdhani case, the NIA is learnt to be also questioning him in the 2009 murder of CPI(M) leader Prabir Mahato.
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