The Bhubaneswar-New Delhi Rajdhani Express slowed down and stopped at Banstala, near Kharagpur, at 2.35 pm on Tuesday. About 300 flag-waving activists and large wooden logs were blocking the tracks.
<b1>Activists of the Maoist-backed People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities (PCPA), pelted stones at the train, breaking some glass windows and injuring at least one passenger.
They next abducted the train’s driver K Anand Rao and his assistant K G Rao, assaulted some passengers, and finally called up the office of the divisional railway manager at Kharagpur, 145 km east of Kolkata. The driver and his assistant were released five hours later.
Their demand: release Chhatradhar Mahato, PCPA spokesman, currently in jail for being involved with the Maoists.
“We have set a deadline of half an hour for the release, failing which we will take stern action,” the caller threatened at 4.00 pm. The passenger were, however, not harmed even after the deadline expired.
Mahato’s successor Santosh Patra also telephoned some newspapers and TV channels and demanded the government stop the police and paramilitary operations to flush out Maoists from the forests of West Midnapore district.
But the government was in no mood to negotiate. In Kolkata, West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said: “I have spoken to Union Home Minister P Chidambaram and we have decided not to meet their demands.”
Speaking to HT over phone, Vinod Sharma, a passenger on board the train, said: “There were hundreds of people shouting slogans. There were wooden logs and banners all over the place. We remained locked in our bogies for hours.”
When a large police contingent tried to reach the spot around 7 pm, it was ambushed near Banstala. A police driver received bullet injuries. But the clash wasn’t serious and the security forces soon reached the train. By then, those holding up the train had melted into the darkness. All that was left were slogans painted over the bogies demanding Mahato’s release.
Addressing reporters in Delhi later in the evening, Chidambaram said: “The train and all passengers on board are safe.”
As a precaution the Railways have decided to run pilot trains in front of important trains like the Rajdhanis and the Shatabdis, as it is already doing in some northeastern states, Anil Kumar Saxena, Railway Ministry spokesperson, said.
Meanwhile, Maoist leader Koteshwar Rao, alias Kishenji, denied his group’s involvement in this incident to a TV channel.
Railway minister Mamata Banerjee alleged that the entire incident was a CPI (M) ploy to disrupt railway activities and malign her. “We can discuss their demands after the train is released,” she added.
(With Delhi bureau inputs)