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Mahato sets no-arrest term for talks
Demand for force pullout

July 1: Chhatradhar Mahato today said the government should drop plans to arrest him and pull out security forces from Lalgarh if it wanted talks.

During a conversation with The Telegraph, the People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities leader now in hiding said: “If the government really wants a dialogue with the committee, it should first abandon all plans to arrest me. Second, it must withdraw all security forces from Lalgarh. If these two conditions are not met, there will be no talks.”

The government had yes- terday said it was not averse to talks but ruled out any inter- action with Mahato, against whom criminal cases were pending. “We know Mahato isn’t a Maoist. But he is wanted under the IPC and we shall arrest him once we get him,” home secretary Ardhendu Sen said.

He iterated the resolve to arrest Mahato today. The government is even less likely to consider the second demand.

Mahato, officially a convener of the committee, asserted that “the people” had chosen him their leader and there was no question of talks in his absence. “It is beyond the government’s imagination what kind of popular anger will erupt if I am arrested,” he said, standing in a jungle of sal, simul and eucalyptus trees, out of sight from the main road.

When this correspondent called Mahato on his mobile phone around 11am, he was asked to head to the Pathardanga crossing, on the Lal- garh-Ramgarh road. After a 20-minute wait, a committee activist arrived on a motorcycle and took the correspondent to Barapelia, 2km away. The bike was left behind a bush and a 2km trek followed.

Around noon, Mahato arrived near an irrigation embankment, riding pillion on a blue motorcycle.

“We will have to hurry. I have 20 minutes,” said Mahato, in a white full-sleeve shirt and cream trousers.

He went on: “You can well see that I have not fled. No leader of the committee has fled. Our other leaders, like Sidhu Soren and Lalmohan Tudu, may be in hiding but they are in touch with the people.”

The part of Barapelia where the conversation took place was around 6km from Lalgarh town.

Mahato said the government had created an atmosphere of panic by sending in a large force. “The police are raiding and ransacking our homes at night…. The People’s Committee has not died. We are planning our course of action.”

Mahato denied the committee’s Maoist links. “The government has been saying Kantapahari is a Maoist stronghold. But the police did not find any Maoist when they came here. Where have they gone?”

He alleged that the government wanted to “establish the rule of the CPM again” in Lalgarh. “But the people will never allow that.”

Asked who were firing at the police or planting mines, Mahato said: “We are not the only ones who have launched a movement in this area. There are many political parties. But I want to make it clear that we don’t have any connection with any militant outfit.”

The man accompanying Mahato reminded him it was past 20 minutes and he hopped onto the bike saying: “Our agitation is still alive.”

At Amlia village near Pathardanga, his mother Bedona said: “If Chhatradhar goes to jail, my youngest son Anil will lead the agitation.”

Chhatradhar, 40, is the eldest. His middle brother, Sasadhar, is a Maoist action squad member.

“The police keep coming to our house in search of Sasadhar, but I haven’t seen him for 20 years,” the mother said.

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