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Labour leader to extortion chief

Jalpaiguri, Nov. 9: For Tarakeshwar Lohar, the rise to power and fame had been fast. The fall from grace was faster still.

In between lay 20 years and the metamorphosis of a man from a simple happy-go-lucky garden worker to a powerful and corrupt union leader.

Lohar joined Dalgaon tea estate as a labourer in his mid-twenties. He soon earned a name for himself as a skilled negotiator who had a way with words. As days went by, Lohar made himself indispensable. A father in need of a doctor for his ailing son, a friend in want of support, an old lady in distress — Lohar was wanted everywhere. His popularity grew and so did his dreams. Soon, he was holding important posts like the central leader of Citu-affiliated Cha Bagan Mazdoor Union and a member of the Citu executive committee of Birpara.

“Lohar became crazy for power. He would do anything for that. He also enjoyed the trust of some influential political leaders,” said a Citu leader who did not want to be named.

With power came money and acquisitions, which a labourer earning a mere Rs 2,000 every month could not afford. A car, a mobile phone, a scooter and property were an index of his rising standard of living.

The journey downwards started slow. Many accused him of extortion, corruption and murder. The RSP, an ally of the CPM, blamed him for masterminding the 1991 killings of seven persons.

As days went by, Lohar became ruthless. Subhas Kuzur, a garden labourer, says: “He came frequently to the labour lines with goons and demand money. In case of marriages, he used to earn Rs 5,000 from both sides. No one could live here without paying nazrana to Lohar.”

Then came the employment of three outsiders as clerks in the garden, a deal that was brokered by Lohar for money. Sensing the anger brewing in the garden, the Citu leadership quietly removed him.

Manik Sanyal, the Jalpaiguri district CPM and Citu secretary who had initially defended him, says: “Lohar was expelled from the party two years ago. It was our fault that we did not call a meeting or inform in the labour lines that he was no longer a part of Citu. We faulted on that part. It is a shame that he used the opportunity to exploit the garden people.”

The leaders of Birpara said Lohar was someone who could be harmed. “We knew he was doing wrong but nobody dared to do anything. He had this powerful circle round him.”

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