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Rebel top gun in raid net

Dec. 4: A leader of the People’s War, whom police described as the man responsible for spreading the Naxalite outfit’s base in the state, was arrested from Salboni in West Midnapore today.

Asit Sarkar, 35, was picked up from one of his many hideouts in the dense Abhaya forests. The police had been looking for him for the past five years. Sarkar alias Mangal Singh is believed to be the chief of the People’s War action squad.

He was held responsible for the outfit’s growth in several districts, the police said.

In another crackdown on the rebels, 15 suspected People’s War activists were arrested from Jangipara in Hooghly, said Chayan Mukherjee, the inspector-general of police (law and order).

Sarkar will be produced in court in Midnapore tomorrow. “His (Sarkar’s) was the brain behind the formation of the People’s War in Midnapore and other parts of the state. The police were desperately searching for him for five years. Today’s arrest is one of the biggest successes for us in recent times,” Mukherjee said at Writers’ Buildings.

He added that the force “expects to unearth a lot of information about the outfit’s activities in Bengal” from Sarkar.

The government, the IG said, will reward the policemen who made the arrest. Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has been informed about the catch.

Sarkar was among the state’s “most wanted” and involved in at least 16 cases, including murder of CPM workers and policemen. He is one of the prime accused in the murder of Ramapada Majhi, the CPM local committee leader at Ranibandh, in January.

He is also believed to have masterminded the twin explosions in the Birghosa jungle on November 27, the police said. Five policemen escaped the explosions by seconds but were injured when their jeep plunged into the crater formed by the blasts.

Mukherjee said the police have recovered a six-chamber revolver and 20 rounds of ammunition from Sarkar. They are now looking for his wife Rita, who is also said to be a top leader of the People’s War action squad.

Acting on a tip-off, a large police contingent raided the Abhaya jungle around noon. “Sarkar was alone in his shelter then,” Mukherjee said. In the past two years, he twice escaped the police net. Six months ago, the police raided the forest in Salboni where he was hiding with some close associates. Sarkar escaped but Rajyapal, one of his aides, died in the encounter.

“Sarkar and his associates never stayed at one place for more than a few hours. That is why the earlier attempts to catch him failed,” said an officer.

Originally from Sandhyabill in Garbeta, now part of West Midnapore, Sarkar was elected into panchayat as a CPM candidate from Sandhipur in 1988. He was expelled from the party in 1990 following charges of corruption.

Sarkar’s association with the People’s War began in 1992, when he went to Andhra Pradesh to begin trading in potatoes but underwent training in the use of arms instead. “He returned in 1998 and took charge of the rebels here,” said Mukherjee.

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