Ahead of Bengal polls, NIA asked to probe ’09 Rajdhani hijack
Ahead of West Bengal assembly elections next year, the ministry of home affairs (MHA) has asked the National Investigation Agency (NIA) to investigate the 11-year-old case of the hijacking of the Bhubaneswar-Delhi Rajdhani Express train by PCAPA (Peoples Committee Against Police Atrocities), people familiar with the matter said on condition of anonymity.
PCAPA is an alleged overground outfit of Maoists and they were demanding the release of their jailed leader Chhatradhar Mahato. The hijacking happened in Jhargram.
Interestingly, the Mamata Banerjee led Trinamool Congress (TMC) earlier this year indicated that it would like Mahato to work for the party in West Midnapore, where he wields considerable influence among tribals. The Bharatiya Janata Party has already made inroads in the region and won the Jhargram Lok Sabha seat last year. The West Bengal government released Mahato on February 1 after the Calcutta High Court commuted his life term to 10 years.
TMC secretary general Partha Chatterjee said in February that he would be glad if Mahato joins the party. The BJP’s state unit chief Dilip Ghosh claimed after TMC’s statement that Banerjee was inducting Maoists to revive its dwindling fortunes.
The BJP and the TMC are engaged in a bitter political battle in the state. The BJP won 18 of the state’s 42 Lok Sabha seats last year, up from the two it won in 2014. Assembly elections in the state are scheduled early next year.
The people cited in the first instance said MHA handed over the investigation to NIA in April this year citing three main grounds – it involves a proscribed outfit; the original FIR registered by state police in Jhargam on October 28, 2009 includes sections 121 and 121A of Indian Penal Code (pertaining to waging war against India) which fall in category of scheduled offence; and that case merits probe under UAPA Section 15C as it deals with kidnapping/hijacking of persons to threaten sovereignty of India.
The NIA has registered a case under various sections including 121, 121A, 506 (criminal intimidation), 341 (wrongful restraint), 148 (rioting) of IPC as well as railways act and a full-fledged investigation has begun already, an officer said. The central agency is also looking to invoke UAPA (unlawful activities prevention act) although the original FIR doesn’t mention the terror angle, officials added.
This also means that West Bengal government and police’s consent need not been taken to go ahead with the NIA probe in the decade old case.
Mahato, the leader of the Lalgarh movement, a popular uprising of Adivasi villagers backed allegedly by the Maoists (the Communist Party of India - Maoists) in 2008, was arrested on September 26, 2009 by the state CID from Jhargram for an alleged attempt on the life of former Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee in Kantapahari area of West Midnapore district on November 2, 2008.
Subsequently, around 500 activists of PCAPA, who were guided by 25 armed Maoists, hijacked the Bhubaneswar-Delhi Rajdhani on October 27, 2009 near the Banstala station at Jhargram demanding the release of Mahato. The train was under their control for five hours before CRPF and state police commandoes reached the spot forcing the hijackers to flee.
“For the past 7-8 years, NIA has extensively investigated all Maoist-related cases including murders, bomb blasts, attack on security forces, their funding and drugs smuggling and has a robust data on all Maoist sympathizers. It is crucial to solve the mystery and larger conspiracy behind this hijacking in 2009,” said one of the people cited in the first instance.
Raju Banerjee, Vice President of Bengal BJP, said – “Mahato was the right hand of top CPI (Maoist) leader Kishenji. He is being brought by TMC as the entire Adivasi votes has shifted to the BJP so Mamata Banerjee wants to use him to get the tribal votes back. But they (TMC) won’t be able to win”.
The TMC refused to comment on the development. Mahato also could not be reached.