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'If I'm arrested, Lalgarh will be torn by violence'

June 22, 2009 12:57 IST
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The Lalgarh crisis is far from over. Though security forces on Saturday moved into Lalgarh and took control of the police station, violence orchestrated by the Communist Party of India-Maoist and the tribal organisation People's Committee Against Police Atrocities still rocks the area.

An arrest warrant was issued against Chhatradhar Mahato, convenor of the PCAPA, on Saturday.

Yet, the tribal leader is unfazed and vows to put up a strong resistance against the central and state forces.

Mahato spoke to's Indrani Roy Mitra on late Friday night and also on Saturday.   

There is an arrest warrant against you. Would you like to comment on it?

It is but expected of the government forces. Sixty-two years have passed since India's Independence but neither the central government nor the state government did anything for the welfare of the tribals of Bengal's Jangalmahal.

Under the CPI-M's tenure, a group of leaders became millionaires by exploiting the tribals of the area. Therefore, while sons of the soil died of starvation, the CPI-M leaders built palaces.

Now when the tribal leaders are protesting, the central forces are either unleashing violence or planning to arrest their leaders. Great moves indeed!

However, should they arrest me, Lalgarh will be torn apart by violence, hitherto unseen and unheard of.

You are always on the move -- either to evade arrest or to fight the central and state forces. Aren't you scared?

I have dedicated my life to the welfare of the people of Jangalmahal. I have to convey their messages to the people across India and the world. Whatever be the consequences of my action, I am ready to face it.  

It is being alleged that Maoists are supporting the PCAPA. Is it true?

Not at all. These are concocted allegations by our detractors. The PCAPA came into being seven to eight months back, whereas the Maoists have been here since ages.

Their agenda is completely different from ours.

Also if you take a close look at the PCAPA's 'warriors', they carry traditional arms like axes, spears, bows and arrows etc, whereas Maoists use landmines and other sophisticated weapons -- there is hardly any similarity between the two.  

Are you suggesting that you put up such a strong fight against government forces with traditional arms only?

Of course. I am not merely suggesting it, I am categorically stating once again that we have no connection with the Maoists.
It is also being alleged by the CPI-M that the Trinamool Congress is supporting you.

This is utter nonsense. At the PCAPA's inception, it was decided that the committee will be free from the influence of any political party.

Besides, the committee members had seen in the past how the Trinamool Congress's attempts to better the lives of the tribals went in vain. Therefore, the PCAPA decided to fight their own battle.

You once belonged to the Trinamool Congress. What went wrong? TMC chief Mamata Banerjee said at a press conference on Saturday that you were expelled after her party discovered your links with the Maoists.

First, let me clear the air -- I was never expelled from the Trinamool Congress. I quit the party when I found it 'incapable' of meeting the tribals' needs.

When the police fired at a PCAPA rally on February 2 this year, killing three PCAPA members, Mamata Banerjee visited Jangalmahal, shed tears and said, 'If these people are Maoists, then I too am a Maoist.' We never doubted her 'sincerity' then.

However, after the elections, the same Mamata Banerjee got a Cabinet post, joined the government at the Centre, which in turn sent paramilitary forces to Lalgarh.

Therefore, it is quite natural for Banerjee now to link me with the Maoists.

A Press Trust of India report quoted you as saying that the PCAPA could build infrastructure in just eight months in restive Lalgarh.

Journalists always misquote and make wrong deductions.

All I had meant was what the Left Front government could not do in 32 long years of its tenure, can be done by the PCAPA in a few months only.

The people at Lalgarh die of starvation regularly, there is no health infrastructure, our children don't get proper education, the tribal languages are neglected and no steps are taken for the welfare of the Jangalmahal residents.

If the PCAPA is given power, it can really do wonders -- that is exactly what I had said.

Now the Centre and state government are unitedly fighting against the PCAPA and Maoists. Are you equipped enough to counter the joint forces?

No power on earth can fight against a State. Hence I cannot say we are capable of winning against the military and paramilitary forces.

However, we are brave soldiers. We won't give in without putting up a strong resistance.

If you are certain of losing the battle, may I ask what did you gain from these violent protests?

We wanted our voices to be heard by the world. We wanted the privileged to know how the people of Jangalmahal lead their lives.

The PCAPA had wanted to create a public opinion. We think we have succeeded in doing so.

Are you ready for talks with the state government if you get a chance?

Of course. We have attempted to arrive at an amicable solution on several occasions in the past. Even now, we are not averse to discussions.

However, I don't expect the governments to have any intent of holding talks. They want their guns to do the talking.

You no longer belong to the Trinamool Congress and if the central and state forces manage to wipe out the PCAPA, you will lose your political identity altogether. What are your plans?

I never had any political ambition. I have always wanted to better the lives of my folks.

Till my last breath, I will try to achieve my goal. Success or failure doesn't matter. What matters to me is the work at hand.

Hypothetically speaking, if you manage to drive away the central and state forces and win, what do you plan to do for the people of Lalgarh?

We want to encourage the tribals to move ahead in life.

We would ensure that they get four square meals a day, enjoy their fundamental rights and that their children get proper education.

We would also ensure that no political party ever gets a chance to exploit the simple tribal folks of this area. We would never again let the CPI-M leaders to build mansions here by extorting from the tribals.   

Photo: Dipak Chakraborty

Also see: Video interview with Chhatradhar Mahato

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