In a pre-dawn swoop today, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) arrested Trinamool Congress State Committee member Chhatradhar Mahato from his home in Jhargram district’s Lalgarh and whisked him off to Kolkata to be produced before a court around noon. He was asleep when a 40-member team dragged him away, local sources said. A policeman was injured during the incident. The 57-year-old Mr Mahato’s family refused to sign or accept any document served by the agency.
The NIA is investigating multiple cases against Mr Mahato, including the 2009 murder of CPM leader Prabir Ghosh during the Maoist uprising in the Lalgarh area. Following his arrest back then, Maoists had tried to hijack the Bhubaneswar Rajdhani Express demanding his release. The agency is probing that case, too.
In a video message, his lawyer Kaushik Sinha said he was informed about the development by his client’s wife. He was not allowed to even dress up properly by the agency officials, Mr Sinha said in the clip. The Trinamool leader was taken away “without even intimating any case or about the warrant of arrest or any order of a learned court”. “The procedure of arrest adopted by NIA is not proper and justified according to the provision of CrPC,” Mr Sinha said.
The immediate cause of Mr Mahato’s arrest is suspected to be his failure to appear before the NIA three times a week – at 11 am every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday – as ordered by the court. Yesterday, he was seen casting his vote for the first time since his arrest under UAPA in 2010.
Mr Mahato was the leader of the People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities (PCPA) formed in Lalgarh in 2008, soon after an assassination attempt on former Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee by Maoists. His older brother, Sasadhar Mahato, was implicated in that assassination bid.
The PCPA turned into what security agencies held was a front for Maoist activities. Mr Mahato was linked to many of these activities, including the murder of several CPM leaders in the area in the years 2008-2011.
He shared the dais with Mamata Banerjee in 2009 when the Trinamool Congress backed the anti-Left movement in the Jangalmahal area.
Soon after his release from jail earlier this year, Mr Mahato joined the Trinamool Congress as a member of its State Committee, the party’s highest decision-making body.