Caught in red tape, the possibility of People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities (PCAPA) leader Chhatradhar Mahato campaigning for a seat in the assembly looks bleak. The rebel had filed his nomination as an Independent from Jhargram, which goes to polls on May 10.
A Jhargram court had ruled in response to an appeal by Mahato that he could campaign provided the jail authorities, or any other authority in the state, allowed him to do so. The jail authorities passed the ball to the Election Commission’s court and on Friday the poll panel lobbed it back.
“The Representation of People’s Act says a person in custody cannot vote. There is, however, no bar in contesting the elections or campaigning. But whether Mahato would be allowed to go out and campaign is up to the court and jail authorities to decide,” chief electoral officer Sunil Gupta said.
A senior EC official Mahato will now have to appeal before the court once again to get permission to campaign. Campaigning ends at 5 pm on Sunday and this leaves Mahato with just one day in hand to move court and get a release order. The court remains closed on Sunday.
“The letter was sent to us by the state jails department and we have forwarded them our observations. We are neither allowing Mahato nor barring him from campaigning. The matter doesn’t fall within our jurisdiction,” Gupta said.
Reacting to the EC’s response, Mahato’s advocate Kaushik Sinha said the court has already asked the jail authorities to take appropriate steps so that PCAPA leader can campaign. “If the poll panel is now sending a court directive back, then I must say that it is just sheer waste of time to bar him from campaigning,” he said.
There was some good news for Mahato though as his election agent Bhagwat Hansda, who was arrested on Thursday in connection with a 2008 case, was released on bail. Human rights activist Krishna Banerjee who met Gupta on Friday said, “The police abused Hansda for helping out Mahato and arrested him.”
Mahato also slammed the arrest of his polling agent and blamed the police and administration for making a farce of democracy. “They are killing democracy after arresting my agent in an old case. They are trying to jeopardise my campaign and want to stop me from winning.”
HT was also able to speak Hansda, who was in Jhargram court. “We are campaigning hard and the people are with us. But suddenly the police arrested me. Now the campaign is in disarray,” he said after being released on bail.
Mahato’s nomination is certain to upset the poll arithmetic of Amar Basu of CPI(M) and Sukumar Hansda of Trinamool, both of who are dwarfed by the high-profile rebel.
“Chhatradhar Mahato’ s decision to participate in the democratic process and his recent statement that he will fight for the cause of the tribal people and against imperialism corruption and atrocities have strengthened his support base among the tribals. He is my main opponent in this election,” said CPI(M) leader and sitting Jhargram legislator Amar Basu.
With PTI inputs