| Lohar with his lawyer outside Alipurduar court. Picture by Ujjal Baral
Jalpaiguri, Nov. 7: Over a decade ago, the heads of two union leaders were found on the tea estate in north Bengal where 19 people were burnt to death yesterday in the house of Tarakeshwar Lohar, a CPM trade union leader.
Leaders of the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP), an ally of the CPM in the ruling Left Front, accuses Lohar of masterminding the killings in 1991 as an opinion gathers strength that yesterday’s attack on his house was a result of accumulated sins he has committed in the past.
A local CPM leader first defended him and then said he had been expelled. “He is nothing but a criminal,” Manik Sanyal said.
On Thursday morning, a mob of several hundred people attacked Lohar’s house on Dalgaon tea estate of Jalpaiguri district and set it afire. The immediate provocation was the recruitment in the tea garden of three outsiders in clerical posts, in which Lohar, a leader of the CPM’s labour wing, Citu, was alleged to have made money.
“Yesterday’s incident is just a retaliation by the labourers who had faced his torture for long years,” said Bhaskar Nandi, leader of a Naxalite faction active in north Bengal.
“Lohar is a known man who is shielded by the party. He was involved in the brutal incident in 1991 and has a nexus with local goons,” he added.
Seven people were killed in that massacre, days after an RSP labour unit was set up in the garden as a large number of workers shifted allegiance from the Citu-affiliated Cha Bagan Mazdoor Union, led by Lohar.
A few days later, the president and the secretary of the unit were beheaded, five more people were murdered and 127 houses looted and torched.
“After the incident, Lohar and his associates did not allow labourers (who had switched sides) to enter the garden. We protested. We even gheraoed local police stations, brought out movements, rallies and meetings, but Lohar was saved,” Nandi said.
RSP leaders support this version. “We know he is the culprit. He was a mere labourer who reached such heights because of the support he received from a section of leaders of the CPM,” said Debabrata Ghosh, a Jalpaiguri district leader of the RSP.
District police chief Siddh Nath Gupta said in the evening: “We have note of such an incident but we are yet to get the details. We have found his involvement in the incident and will soon investigate in detail. If he is found guilty, he will not be spared.”
Sanyal, the CPM and Citu’s district leader, initially defended Lohar, saying he was not aware of any such incident. “It is typical of RSP leaders to allege his involvement in an incident which happened 12 years back.”
Later, he clarified that Lohar had been expelled from the CPM two years ago. “Since the estate is spread over a huge area, we could not inform everyone. He has been using the party to cheat others,” Sanyal added.
As the history of Lohar unfolds as the strongman of a tea garden — known to have the last word in Dalgaon — it has come to light that he owns a Maruti car and a scooter, and also has a house under construction at nearby Birpara.
The list of his acquisitions, if true, does not match his monthly salary of some Rs 2,000 as a mere labourer in a tea garden. “He uses mobile phone and has land in the name of his father at Birpara. We have found two pipe-guns from the bodies recovered from his home yesterday,” said a senior police official.