Kolkata: Pro-Maoist tribal group Peoples’ Committee Against Police Atrocities (PCAPA) convener Chhatradhar Mahato and five of his peers were on Tuesday sentenced to life imprisonment by a West Bengal court.
Mahato, Sukhsanti Baske, Sambhu Soren and Sagun Murmu were handed down life sentences by the court of Additional Sessions Judge (West Midnapore) Kaveri Bose under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA).
They were also charged under various provisions of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) dealing with murder, criminal conspiracy, waging war against the state, and various other sections of the Arms Act and the Explosives Act.
Raja Sarkhel and Prasun Chatterjee – two other PCAPA members – also got life sentences on charges of sedition. The duo was not charged under the UAPA. All six were pronounced guilty by the court on Monday.
Before his arrest in 2009, Mahato was one of the prominent faces of the Maoist-backed tribal resistance in West Midnapore district’s Lalgarh area, about 200 km west of Kolkata, against the then Left Front government.
Lalgarh was on the boil for over two years since November 2, 2008, when a landmine exploded on the route of the convoy of then chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and central ministers Ram Vilas Paswan and Jitin Prasada.
Complaining of police atrocities after the blast, angry tribals egged on by Maoists launched an agitation virtually cutting off the area from the rest of the district.
The agitators torched offices of the Communist Party of India-Marxist, drove away its supporters and forced police to leave, thereby establishing a virtual free zone.
In June 2009, joint forces comprising paramilitary troopers and crack teams of state police reclaimed the areas and conducted intense operations to flush out the Left wing ultras.
There were a spate of arrests while a number of PCAPA and Maoist leaders were killed in shootouts with the secuirty forces. Mahato was nabbed on September 26, 2009. The movement gradually died down.
The tribal leader had also participated in rallies by Trinamool Congress chairperson Mamata Banerjee before her party came to power in 2011. Mahato’s wife Niyoti said all tribals of juglemahal (forested stretches in West Midnapore, Bankura and Purulia districts) were upset over the verdict.
“They had organised a movement against the atrocities perpetrated on the tribals. The present chief minister Mamata Banerjee (who was then in the opposition) had supported them. But after she came to power, those who had led the movement are being dubbed ‘anti-national’,” Niyoti said. She said Mahato will appeal against the verdict in a higher court.