Chhatradhar Mahato – former senior leader of the People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities (PCPA) – the group backed by the Maoists in West Bengal’s Lalgarh, is now part of the Trinamool Congress’ state committee. The decision to make Mahato a part of the party’s state committee was made in the Trinamool Congress’ internal meeting on Thursday.

Mahato was arrested in 2009 during the tenure of the former Left Front government and he was serving life imprisonment. However, 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. Mahato was released in February this year, and there have been speculations since about the possibility of his joining Trinamool Congress.

Four persons including Mahato, convener of the PCPA, were convicted by a court in West Midnapore district for sedition under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). It was the first case in West Bengal where a court held the accused guilty under UAPA, which was implemented in the state in 2009. Mahato 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. Mahato, in his letter written to the government had said that he had been wrongfully jailed by the then Left Front government. He was finally released in February this year.

The BJP has a major influence in Jangalmahal now, having won five of the six Lok Sabha seats in 2019 in the region (that also includes parts of other districts that go beyond the forested areas). It is being said that the Trinamool Congress wants Chhatradhar Mahato to play a major role in winning the support of the local and to get back the party’s lost votes in the area. There is the issue of the Mahatos, who as a group, have taken an anti-Trinamool Congress position and pro-BJP stance, and that needs to be addressed by the ruling party in West Bengal if it is to retain power in the state in 2021, and can’t allow any area anywhere in the state to be taken less seriously than the others.

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