Chattradhar Mahato who was once the Convenor of the People’s Committee Against Police Attrocities (PCPA) is today a state committee member of the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) party in West Bengal. And while the BJP had bagged seats in the Junglemahal belt in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, this does not stop Mahato from believing that the opposition parties are not strong enough to unearth the TMC in this belt in the 2021 Assembly elections in West Bengal.
What makes Mahato so confident? Especially, when he garnered just about 20,000 votes while contesting from jail in the 2011 Assembly elections?
Mahato was jailed in 2009 under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and was considered to be a maoist sympathiser during the erstwhile Left Front regime. The former PCPA convenor was also accused in the 2009 Rajdhani Express train attack in West Midnapore district and the murder of CPIM leader Abir Mahato. After 11 years, Mahato was called for questioning by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) a few days ago in connection with these cases.
The past not-withstanding, Mahato believes it is a fresh start and his support for West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has always been strong. She is someone he has known since the 90’s. Mahato believes that Mamata understands people and the issues of the Junglemahal belt, unlike CPIM leaders who were part of the former Left Front government in West Bengal.
According to sources, Mahato is grateful Mamata has given him the big responsibility of strengthening the TMC support base in tribal areas, within six to seven months of his release from jail and for making him a TMC state committee member. He opines that it is more of an honour for the indigenous people of Jungle Mahal belt as Mahato feels that Mamata gives respect to the people in the tribal belt.
What makes Mahato believe in the TMC moreso, is the inclusive nature of many small communities like the tribal population that have their own culture and language. For instance, there is post-graduate education in Ol chiki language of Lalgarh. The Kurmi society too has it’s own language and font. The tribal leader hopes that if majority of people in the Junglemahal region lend their support to Mamata, other indigenous languages will be recognized as well.
Is it that easy to win the hearts of voters in the tribal belt, especially with the strong influence of the saffron party?
While Mahato is the TMC’s face for the fight for betterment of the tribal population, the core of the matter is the hope that people will perhaps one day be recognized in a more significant way. While maoist activities are nil in West Bengal, the tribal population still struggles to make more inroads into mainstream society and be at par in education and employment.