Chhatradhar Mahato, face of Lalgarh movement backed by the Maoists, gets life sentence reduced to 10 years

The jail sentence on Chhatradhar Mahato, leader of the People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities (PCPA) – the group backed by the Maoists in West Bengal’s Lalgarh – was reduced today by an order of the Calcutta High Court.

Mahato had been serving life imprisonment, but it was reduced to ten years’ imprisonment as there was inadequate proof against him and others arrested in a case of bomb blast in Salboni. Two others arrested in the case – Raja Sarkhel and Prasun Chatterjee were relieved of the charges slapped on them by the state. Chhatradhar Mahato has been imprisoned for nearly ten years and therefore his release is likely soon.

In fact, Mahato had recently applied to the state government seeking release from jail. He was arrested in 2009 and has been lodged in jail for the past 10 years. He was dramatically arrested by the police in 2009 as they posed as journalists who had gone to interview him.

Four persons including Chhatradhar Mahato, convener of the PCPA, were convicted by a court in West Midnapore district for sedition under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), 2008. It was the first case in West Bengal where a court has held the accused guilty under UAPA, which was implemented in the state in 2009. He was later declared a political prisoner.

During the former Left Front government rule, Mahato was an influential leader of the PCPA and the face of the Lalgarh movement in the forested region of Purulia, Bankura, West Midnapore and Jhargram together known as Jangalmahal. He had reportedly held several meetings with the CPI-Maoist politburo member Kishanji, who was later killed in an encounter with the security forces.

Chhatradhar Mahato, in his letter written to the government has said that he had been wrongfully jailed by the then Left Front government. He has also written that since he was the sole breadwinner of his family, they are now suffering financially due to his absence, and if he is released he can work again and take good care of his family.

The High Court reduced his sentence as the state was unable to provide adequate proof against him and the others in the case. While Mahato has been jailed for nearly ten years now, the Trinamool Congress government’s position on him has become softer. Jobs have been promised to his two sons. His wife is also known to have grown close to the Trinamool Congress and there are talks that he too might join the party.

It is being said that the Trinamool Congress’ current position on Chhatradhar Mahato is linked to the fact that the Mahatos, as a group, have taken an anti-Trinamool Congress position and pro-BJP stance.

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