Kolkata: Political parties across the spectrum, from the Trinamool Congress to the Left Front and the Congress are fielding candidates in the West Bengal panchayat elections with alleged Maoist links.
Hamlet Mandi, who faces murder and attempt to murder charges after being arrested in December 2011 for his alleged Maoist links, has already served an 8-month prison sentence before he was released on bail. Now a Trinamool Congress panchayat samiti candidate at the Binpur II block of West Midna pore, Mandi feels this is the best way to exorcise his past. "The path I chose earlier was wrong. This is the legal way of bringing about development. No one will stop me now," Mandi said.
Other parties too have taken a cue from the Trinamool Congress and fielded former alleged Maoists in the five-phased panchayat polls. 48-year-old Nikhil Mahato, a Congress gram panchayat candidate in Belpahari, has spend nearly two years in jail after being arrested twice for his alleged Maoist links. There are 35 cases against him. "This is a Congress stronghold and people in this area wanted me to fight the elections. So I have decided to fight for their needs," Mahato said.
Some 70 kilometers away in the Jambooni police station area, CPM gram panchayat candidate Lakkhindar Shit tries hard to convince voters about his new role. Arrested and jailed for gunning down a local gram panchayat pradhan and his associate, who were killed in a Maoist operation three years ago, he alleges that he was framed. "I do not care what the Opposition speaks about me. They have conspired and slapped false cases. They may slap new cases in future. But I will be with my people," Shit said.
Among serious security threat perceptions, the Maoist-affected Jungalmahal area will vote in the first of the five-phase elections on Thursday. Recent instances of Maoist violence in the neighbouring states of Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh have kept security forces in Jungalmahal on high alert. Almost all the 10,000-odd booths spread across Purulia, Bankura and West Midnapore are either highly sensitive or sensitive. Yet it seems that the state government isn't ready to deploy forces as per Calcutta High Court orders. "The deployment of police forces cannot be ascertained at present. It will depend on the number of forces which we receive from the police directorate," West Midnapore ADM Arindam Dutta said.
Candidates like these who have allegedly defected from ultra-left camps admit they are vulnerable to Maoist backlash during and after the polls. That could shatter the apparent peace in this region and restart the reign of terror which kept Jungalmahal on tenterhooks not so long ago.