Midnapore, Dec. 11: A tribal leader who had played a leading role in an anti-Maoist protest in Belpahari two days ago was shot dead this evening.
Sudhir Mandi was returning home with his wife on a cycle from the weekly haat (bazaar) when eight masked men armed with single-barrel guns and daggers pounced on him.
They had apparently been waiting for him behind a clump of bush along the bumpy road lined with thick forest. “Two of them dragged Mandi’s wife away. The rest shot him and slit his throat. Mandi died on the spot,” a Belpahari police officer said.
The residents of Jordanga — 250km from Calcutta — rushed in as Mandi’s wife raised the alarm.
“A week ago, Maoists had asked Mandi to dissociate himself from the Bharat Jakat Majhi Marwa, which organised Tuesday’s meeting. Mandi refused to do so,” said a district leader of the Jharkhand Janmukti Morcha.
Elected to the Binpur-II panchayat samiti as an Independent in May, Mandi, 46, had joined the Morcha, formed after a split in the Jharkhand Party (Naren). He was also an active member of the Majhi Marwa.
“We believe today’s murder was the handiwork of Maoists. Sudhir Mandi was one of the organisers of the rally against them at Bhulabheda village on December 9. Another anti-Maoist rally was supposed to be held at Chakadoba, close to his house, on December 18,” said West Midnapore superintendent of police Rajesh Ku- mar Singh. Mandi, he added, was the driving force behind next week’s rally.
At Bhulabheda, Mandi had slammed the rebels for “trying to mislead tribals by taking advantage of their poverty and the lack of development in the area”. He was not alone. Another leader, Manasaram Mandi, said: “These people (Maoists) have repeatedly killed tribals and blown up roads. Don’t give them shelter. Just drive them away.”
The tribals had launched an agitation last month in protest against alleged police atrocities after raids in the wake of a blast targeting the chief minister. The reins of the protest had slipped into the Mao- ists’ hands until the tribals accepted the government’s peace overtures this week.
“The rebels wouldn’t have liked the thaw in relations between us and the tribals,” a police officer said.
This is the first time Maoists have killed a non-CPM leader in West Midnapore, Bankura or Purulia.