Chhatradhar Mahato’s arrest: – Cops in media garb draw criticism
Posted by Admin on September 27, 2009
Midnapore, Sept. 26: Interview over, the “reporter” pulled out a revolver and pointed it at Lalgarh tribal leader Chhatradhar Mahato.
Two police officers disguised as journalists “from Singapore” today arrested the spearhead of the Lalgarh agitation at last, one holding him at gunpoint while the other grabbed him from behind.
The head of the Maoist-backed People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities had “eluded” the cops for nearly three months while moving freely around Lalgarh, giving sundry media interviews and even appearing on TV.
It was apparently one interview too many he gave at his hideout near his home village of Amlia in Lalgarh today. Maoist guerrilla chief Kishanji told The Telegraph the police had tried to trap him the same way but he had rejected their request for an interview and thus had had a “narrow escape”.
The Maoists have called a 24-hour countrywide bandh on October 3 to protest the arrest, according to PTI.
Mahato’s arrest apparently came under ally pressure, with Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee facing tough questions from RSP minister Kshiti Goswami at the last cabinet meeting.
The move also appeared to be in line with the Centre’s apparent strategy of picking up Maoist leaders in the run-up to a planned countrywide offensive this winter, although Mahato isn’t a Maoist himself.
However, the tactic of posing as journalists, though perhaps not illegal, may be ethically questionable. At least one media association has condemned the tactic.
The media in the US and Canada, where police do dress up as reporters to arrest strike leaders or keep a tab on white supremacists, say the practice threatens the safety of real journalists.
West Midnapore police chief Manoj Verma said Mahato faced “at least 15 cases, including murder, sedition and abduction”, all relating to the Lalgarh agitation. It will be decided later whether to book him under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act.
Sources said the trap had been laid with care. Six officers, drawn from the CID and district police, had been camping in Jhargram since Tuesday. “They collected the names of reporters who were in regular touch with Mahato and Kishanji,” an officer said.
“They convinced two of these reporters that they were journalists from a TV channel in Singapore. One officer identified himself as Anirban Roy and contacted Mahato with the help of these two Jhargram-based reporters.”
Two officers, posing as reporter and cameraman, travelled to Lalgarh from Jhargram on two motorcycles along with the two journalists. Within five minutes of the arrest, a police team stationed nearby arrived at the spot, and Mahato was taken to Midnapore town for interrogation.
As the news of Mahato’s arrest spread, the Maoists exploded a landmine at Dalilpur. No one was injured.