On September 26, 2009, Chhatradhar Mahato, leader of Peoples’ Committee Against Police Atrocity (PCAPA) was arrested. While arresting him Police personnel had used fake Press cards to substantiate their identity as journalists. This has not only lowered the dignity and credibility of journalism as a profession but has also jeopardised their livelihood as the journalists are required to interact with vast sections of the society on a regular basis and certainly do enjoy the trust and confidence of the public at large.
It is a well known fact that free flow of information is the guarantee of democracy. Journalists ensure this guarantee. But the way the Lalgarh leader was arrested has not only put the lives of journalists in danger but shattered their credibility among the ‘sources’ of news which they nurse very carefully in the interest of public good and welfare. Police personnel have put forward the plea that whatever they have done, it was done in the interest of the nation. But their latest move has proved that in the name of nabbing the Lalgarh leader, they wanted to gag the Press by jeopardising their freedom. They do not want that news of their failure in controlling Maoist activities should get so much publicity in news media. Hence they had taken this step.
In Kolkata, the journalist community was very much agitated against the attitude of the Police and administration. Three premier organisations of journalists in the State such as West Bengal Union of Journalists (an affiliate of NUJ-I), Indian Journalist Association and Press Club, Kolkata had organised a protest meeting at Press Club hall on September 30, 2009. A resolution was unanimously passed in the meeting said, “This august House hereby resolves to condemn strongly and vociferously the act of some Police personnel of the West Bengal government to arrest a leader of Lalgarh in the guise of Press Reporters. This act is all the more abominable and deplorable on the part of the Police as they being the custodians of law resorted to impersonation to achieve their end.”
“We as journalists have nothing to do with the arrest of the Lalgarh leader but would, at the risk of repetition, unequivocally condemn the manner in which the identity of our profession was usurped by the Police at the behest of the West Bengal government. The very act of the Police has far reaching implications for our entire media fraternity across the nation and has evoked their concern too.”
The resolution further said: “The statement made by the West Bengal Home Secretary Ardhendu Sen ‘diluting the brazen Police act’, ‘belittling the dignity of the Press’, and simultaneously rising to the defence of the Police also came in for condemnation at the meeting.”
In this connection a background of the whole episode should be given. Otherwise it would be difficult to understand and appreciate the stand taken by the journalists in this regard.
On November 8, 2008 Buddhadeb Bhattacharya escaped an attack near Salbani of West Midnapur while returning after attending foundation stone laying ceremony of a steel factory.
Following this Police initiated an offensive in tribal villages suspecting that the Maoists were behind the attack. In the course few school children were arrested and allegedly few females were subjected to Police atrocities.
Tribals started a movement against this alleged Police atrocities under the banner ‘People’s Committee against Police Atrocity’ (PCPA).
The leader of the movement was one Chhatradhar Mahato Within days, the movement gathered momentum. The villagers blocked road by various methods demanding apology from SSP. Police were not allowed to enter the villages. A number of Police stations were attacked and lawlessness reached in its pick.
The administration was forced to withdraw Police from a large area of Lalgarh. And Lalgarh remained isolated from the rest of the world.
In such a situation the Maoists started flexing their arms in Lalgarh and gradually it became evident that the entire movement was directed by the Maoists from behind.
June 15, 2009, four reporters from Kolkata reached a place called Dharampur where apparently two/three bodies of CPI (M) activists were lying for few days and had no taker.
The visit revealed a different story. The reporters found on camera that how the Maoists were leading the movement of villagers against Police and against CPI(M) leaders or activists. That was the eye-opener for administration which was finding itself helpless to control the situation. The footage of destruction of a white two-storied building of a CPI(M) leader, the on camera admission of one Maoist leader that they wanted to kill Buddhadeb Bhattacharya created hue and cry. The decision of joint operation was taken.
Simultaneously the Union Government declared the CPI(Maoist) as terrorist organisation.
Since the beginning of joint operation the administration considered Chhatradhar Mahato as the most wanted. The Chief Minister ordered his arrest. But nothing happened. The PCPA remained active; Chhatradhar remained as mobile as he was.
The Maoists were also active with their agenda of elimination theory.
Finally on September 27, 2009, three reporters of Jhargram, the sub-divisional town under which Lalgarh is situated were on their way to a village of Lalgarh to get interview of Chhatradhar Mahato. Two ‘journalists’ requested them to take them in the team. These two were working in Jhargram and Lalgarh area for last couple of months with identity of a Singapore based television channel. However, the ‘reporter’ was carrying identity card of ‘Asian News Agency’ and the ‘cameraperson’ was carrying identity card of Taza Khabar, a Kolkata-based Hindi ground channel. The movement of these two were suspicious to the local journalists and they tried to enquire about them from Kolkata, that could not be ascertained. So, the local journalists found no option but to rely upon the request of two so called fellow journalists.
The local journalists with those two arrived at the pre-decided location to have interview of Chhatradhar Mahato. Immediately after taking the interview they took out a pistol and aiming towards Chhatradhar Mehata said, “you are under arrest”. The local journalists protested but they were threatened.
The two were exposed as CID personnel. These two were followed by few more CID personnel in a vehicle and they went away with Chhatradhar Mahato.
Who is this Chhatradhar? Actually he is the younger brother of Shashadhar Mahato. Shashadhar is the commander of Lalgarh (West Midnapur) Zonal Committee of the CPI (Maoist). It is a common knowledge in the area that Chhatradhar is an agent of his elder brother. He has camouflaged himself in the interest of the Maoist movement. But then there is another theory which says that Chhatradhar is a planted person of the ruling party. This is the reason why he has substantiated the names of two hundred persons who have links with the Maoists. He has given the details of these persons. Hence it is yet to be disclosed who this person is.
(The writer can be contacted at 13/B, SN Chatterjee Road, Kolkata.)