Shiladitya Chowdhury at a Jhargram court on Saturday. Picture by Samir Mondal
Jhargram/Calcutta, Aug. 11: A farmer who had accused chief minister Mamata Banerjee of making false promises to Jungle Mahal’s poor at her Wednesday rally was picked up a second time on Friday night and slapped with non-bailable charges.
Forty-something Shiladitya Chowdhury, who owns a one-bigha plot, has been charged with assaulting and injuring government officials three days after the police apparently let him go because they could find no evidence that he was a Maoist, as initially alleged.
Jhargram police sources said they faced a series of queries from Writers’ Buildings after Shiladitya’s release on Wednesday night. “On Thursday, we received an instruction from our superiors to arrest him immediately,” an officer at Belpahari police station said.
He explained: “The decision to arrest him was taken because people at a very high level realised his act would encourage others to create trouble during the chief minister’s Jungle Mahal visits before the panchayat polls. Many more like Shiladitya could start raising their voice. The arrest will send a message.”
Shiladitya has been charged with causing hurt to deter a public servant from his duty, assaulting a public servant to deter him from discharging his duty, criminal trespass and criminal intimidation. The first two offences are non-bailable and carry three-year terms.
The farmer, who depends on his land for a living after illness forced him to quit his bus conductor’s job six months ago, was remanded in 14 days’ judicial custody by a Jhargram court today.
He had been sitting in the front row at Wednesday’s Belpahari rally when he stood up, pointed a finger at Mamata, and asked: “Why are we not getting proper prices for paddy? Why are the prices of fertilisers increasing every day? You know well that your promises are not coming true…. Why are you making false promises to poor people like us?”
“Oke dhorun to… ekkhuni dhorun (catch him at once),” the chief minister ordered the police.
As the cops led Shiladitya away, Mamata, who had just accused Maoists of sneaking into the rally ground to create trouble, told the crowd: “Did you see how I caught one of them red-handed?”
The police had initially said the farmer was Duryodhan Mahato, a Maoist active in nearby Binpur where Shiladitya too lives. After six hours’ questioning, they realised it would not be easy to establish any Maoist links in court and set him free.
However, PTI reported Trinamul leader and railway minister Mukul Roy as claiming that the person had breached security and had identified himself as Mahato.
On Friday night, police rushed to Shiladitya’s home in Nayagram village in three vehicles and cordoned off his mud hut, where he lives with his wife, two children and widowed mother.
Officers spent the whole of Saturday mulling what charges to slap him with. Phone calls were exchanged between the Jhargram police brass and their superiors.
“For two days, we tried to find out if he could be accused of any of the Maoists’ recent subversive activities. But the man had no Maoist antecedents. So we decided to take the easier way out — at the rally ground, he had tried to resist us,” an officer said.
Highly placed police sources said the force had little option but to treat the matter as a “security risk” since the rally venue was in a Maoist belt and the visit to Belpahari was the first by a chief minister in decades.
“Besides, the media glare on the initial detention ensured that top officials got into the picture and made it an issue,” a source said, without disclosing if they acted on their own or at the behest of someone else.
The superintendent of Jhargram police district, Bharati Ghosh, denied that Shiladitya was released on Wednesday. “During interrogation, he managed to flee,” she said.
Escape should be difficult from Belpahari police station, ringed by sand bunkers and teeming with police guards from the rooftop to the grille gate. Besides, if he had fled, Shiladitya would have been unlikely to be at home on Friday night.
“Shiladitya’s aged mother fell at our feet saying her son had made a mistake by asking the chief minister some questions. She held our hands saying Shiladitya would never repeat the act,” said a constable who was part of the team that raided Shiladitya’s home. “But we were helpless. We had no choice but to pick him up in front of his family.”
In court today, the police failed to produce a case diary. The public prosecutor said it would be produced at the next hearing.
Trinamul MP Derek ’Brien denied the chief minister’s office had instructed the police to arrest Shiladitya. “The police are doing their duty and the law will take its own course,” PTI quoted him as saying.
Mukul Roy said: “He tried to disturb the meeting. He broke the barricade in the Z-plus security zone. He was drunk and pushed police officers and women and used threatening language.”
He added: “Anyone has a right to ask questions. But he did not ask any question. He was just shouting. I was present there.”
Roy said Shiladitya had initially claimed his name was Duryodhan Mahato. “Why did he not give his correct name? He is a criminal trespasser. He had criminal intentions. He is among those who are bent on creating trouble and do not believe in parliamentary democracy.”