Kolkata: It’s practically ten years since Mamata Banerjee promised to launch all political prisoners as soon as she got here to energy. Now looking for a 3rd tenure because the chief minister, the Trinamool Congress (TMC) chief, nevertheless, has left the promise solely partially fulfilled.

No less than 75 individuals accused of getting hyperlinks with the banned Communist Get together of India (Maoist), or the CPI (Maoist), are nonetheless lodged in numerous jails of Bengal, a few of them for greater than a decade. That is regardless of a overview committee appointed by her and headed by a retired excessive court docket choose recommending the discharge of all political prisoners in 2011.

Over the previous couple of weeks, the Affiliation for Safety of Democratic Rights (APDR), the most important human rights organisation within the state, has launched a marketing campaign looking for the discharge of all political prisoners. They’ve held road nook conferences and carried out poster campaigns, reminding folks of considered one of Mamata Banerjee’s most-talked-about electoral guarantees.

“We advisable the unconditional launch of all political prisoners however by no means heard again from the federal government,” retired Calcutta excessive court docket Justice Moloy Sengupta, who headed the 13-member overview committee for the discharge of political prisoners, instructed The Wire.

In line with the state’s human rights organisations, there have been greater than 500 political prisoners concerned within the Better Cooch Behar and Kamtapur motion in north Bengal and the Nandigram and Lalgarh actions in south Bengal, when Mamata Banerjee got here to energy in Might 2011. Of them, 135 had the standing of political prisoners. The standing is granted by courts. Political prisoners are entitled to sure jail advantages, equivalent to entry to each day newspapers and studying and writing supplies.

The overview committee for the releases of political prisoners, nevertheless, didn’t contemplate whether or not one formally had the standing or not. They recognized all circumstances political in nature and advisable that the accused needs to be granted unconditional launch.

Through the Left Entrance’s last time period, many related to the anti-land acquisition motion in Singur (2006-08) have been implicated in quite a few circumstances however none of them have been in jail on the time Mamata Banerjee got here to energy. The motion towards land acquisition in Nandigram (2006-07) noticed the participation of the Maoists alongside mainstream events just like the TMC and the Socialist Unity Centre of India (SUCI), whereas the Lalgarh motion (2008-2011) towards police atrocities was led by the Maoists. From Nandigram, solely those that had alleged Maoist hyperlinks have been in jail. The very best variety of political prisoners have been linked with the Lalgarh motion that unfold throughout three districts of southwestern Bengal.

Over the previous 9 years, the federal government has, nevertheless, withdrawn many of the circumstances of Singur and Nandigram during which TMC leaders and staff had been implicated. Instances associated to political violence in Birbhum district have additionally been withdrawn the place TMC members have been the accused, based on the state’s human rights activists.

It’s extensively alleged and believed that the TMC bought the tacit backing of the Maoists within the 2011 meeting elections that introduced an finish to what’s typically described as ‘one of many world’s longest-serving democratically elected communist authorities’. Nevertheless, her relations with the Maoists soured quickly after her ascent to energy, largely over her seen change of stance in the direction of two of her ballot guarantees – launch of political prisoners and the withdrawal of the Centre-state joint safety forces from the Jangalmahal space.

The Maoist motion within the state that resurfaced in 1998 after a spot of greater than 15 years met an abrupt finish in November 2011 with the killing of CPI (Maoist) politburo member Koteshwara Rao alias Kishanji, the undisputed head of the Maoists’ Bengal operations throughout that point. Since then, dozens of Maoist cadres have surrendered earlier than the state police and accepted rehabilitation packages, whereas a number of different senior leaders have been arrested.

The final armed squad of the Bengal unit of the Maoist get together led by the state secretary, Asim Mandal alias Akash, has been based mostly in Jharkhand districts bordering West Bengal since Kishanji’s loss of life.

Many individuals whose launch has been advisable by the overview committee proceed to be in jail. Photograph: Public area

The promise and her actions

Mamata Banerjee made the promise on February 20, 2011 whereas addressing a protest gathering in entrance of the statue of Mahatma Gandhi within the Esplanade space. Performing on the promise, one of many first selections of her authorities taken throughout its first cupboard assembly on Might 20, 2011, was to represent a 13-member committee to overview the method of releasing political prisoners. The committee was notified within the Kolkata Gazette on June 4.

The definition of ‘political prisoner’ was decided on the idea of part 24 of the West Bengal Correctional Providers Act, 1992. It stated:

“Any individual arrested or convicted on a cost of getting dedicated or trying to commit aiding or abetting the commissions of any political offence, whether or not or not the act constituting such offence comes inside the preview of any offence punishable below the Indian Penal code or every other legislation in the meanwhile in pressure, or any individual believed to have been prosecuted out of political animosity or grudge, shall be labeled as political prisoner.”

The Act additional defined, “For the needs of this clause, (a) any offence dedicated or alleged to have been dedicated in furtherance of any political or democratic motion or any offence arising out of an act completed by a person with an unique political goal free from private greed or motive shall be a political offence.”

The overview committee submitted its first record of 78 prisoners recommending their rapid launch on bail within the first week of July. This record included plenty of ‘Maoist prisoners’, together with two former alleged state unit secretaries of the CPI(Maoist), Himadri Sen Roy alias Somen and Sudip Chongdar alias Kanchan.

Nevertheless, on July 20, CM Banerjee introduced that 52 prisoners could be launched within the first batch earlier than August 15. These 52 included two Maoists – a 64-year-old alleged state committee member, Chandi Sarkar and a 30-year-old alleged CPI (Maoist) functionary, Pradip Chatterjee. The remaining have been in jail for alleged hyperlinks with the Kamtapur Liberation Organisation (KLO) which had launched a violent motion looking for to curve out a separate state with some districts of north Bengal and Assam.

Quickly after, the Union dwelling ministry wrote to the chief minister cautioning her towards releasing Maoist prisoners, following which the plan to launch Sarkar, who was in jail since 2005, and Chatterjee, who was arrested in 2008, was dropped.

West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee. Photograph: PTI

And that marked the start of her backtracking on the ballot promise. These linked with the KLO have been launched over the subsequent 12 months however nobody accused of getting Maoist hyperlinks was launched. Sarkar lastly got here out of jail in 2012 following his acquittal, and so did Chatterjee in 2015.

“The federal government stored opposing our bail pleas in court docket and fought tooth and nail to get us convicted. We managed to get out combating the federal government legally,” stated Chatterjee, who too is collaborating within the marketing campaign looking for the discharge of all political prisoners.

Human rights activist Sujato Bhadra, who was a member of the overview committee, stated that the chief minister’s method accounted for greater than mere breach of electoral promise. “She made a volte-face and her authorities took an energetic function in guaranteeing that nobody with alleged Maoist hyperlinks bought to acquire bail by means of courts,” Bhadra stated.

In line with him, the chief minister began backing out of her plan to launch Maoist prisoners since receiving the Union dwelling ministry letter. Bhadra, nevertheless, felt that if the federal government was actually honest on its promise, it might have defined to the Union dwelling ministry its stance and moved forward with its plan.

The committee had advisable the unconditional launch of greater than 500 political prisoners, additionally recommending that the circumstances towards them needs to be withdrawn.

Ranjit Sur, vice-president of the APDR, stated that an incident in February 2012 made it clear that the federal government wouldn’t launch a single prisoner accused of being leaders or functionaries of the CPI (Maoist). He stated that on February 6, a lawyer who was a part of the overview committee represented the federal government within the excessive court docket to oppose the bail plea of 5 alleged Maoist functionaries.

“When an individual who as a part of a government-constituted committee had advisable the discharge of all political prisoners was on the similar time, as a government-appointed lawyer, against the bail plea of a few of the political prisoners, the double requirements grow to be too evident to be ignored,” stated Sur.

He wrote in an article on February 14, 2012, “The message is evident and last. The Mamata authorities is just not going to launch any political prisoners of the Maoist selection, even when they’re given the standing of political prisoners by the court docket.”

Then, after the Centre suggested the state in October 2012 to amend the Correctional Providers Act, 1992, to dam the best way for members of terrorist organisations from getting the standing of political prisoner, the Mamata Banerjee authorities heeded. The related sections have been amended on August 27, 2013. For the reason that CPI (Maoist) was declared a terrorist organisation, nobody arrested for Maoist hyperlinks bought the standing of political prisoner in Mamata Banerjee’s rule.

Through the session within the state meeting on that day, parliamentary affairs minister Partha Chatterjee had stated that the federal government had launched 56 political prisoners prior to now two years.

Current situation

Plenty of Maoist leaders have been launched from jail throughout Mamata Banerjee’s rule following their acquittal. This consists of Gour Chakraborty, the primary ‘overground spokesperson’ of the clandestine Maoist get together, who was arrested in 2009; Patit Paban Haldar, the primary state secretary of the CPI(Maoist); and his successor Himadri Sen Roy. Sudip Chongdar died in jail. Arnab Dam alias Bikram obtained bail.

As of now, alleged state committee members Barun Sur, Kalpana Maiti, Anup Roy, Manasaram Hembram, Akhil Ghosh and Ranjan Munda are in jail. Sur, Maiti and Ghosh are in jail since 2010 and have the standing of political prisoners. 4 individuals who have been a part of the anti-land acquisition motion in Nandigram, together with distinguished organiser Madhusudan Mandal alias Narayan, have been additionally arrested in 2010. They’re the one individuals linked with the Nandigram motion who’re nonetheless in jail.

In line with Ranjit Sur, about 50 individuals related to the Lalgarh motion are languishing in jails for the reason that Left Entrance regime.

Villagers run as police fireplace teargas shells in Nandigram, 15 March 2007. Photograph: Reuters

No TMC chief agreed to talk to The Wire on the problem, arguing that it was ‘solely the chief minister’s area.’

A senior IPS officer who occupied a excessive chair on the state authorities in 2011 stated, on the situation of anonymity, that senior IPS and IAS officers managed to persuade her in regards to the risks of releasing Maoist leaders quickly after the Union dwelling ministry cautioned the state authorities on the finish of July 2011.

In line with political analyst Biswanath Chakraborty, a professor of political science at Rabindra Bharati College (RBU), Mamata Banerjee made this promise, together with withdrawal of safety forces and reinvestigation of previous circumstances, to win over the leftist intelligentsia and the members of the civil society, a majority of whom have been backing the TMC chief towards the Left Entrance for her insurance policies on agriculture and industrialisation forward of the 2011 elections.

“She made innumerable pre-poll guarantees. After coming to energy, she tried to promptly implement a few of them, whereas for some others she opted to purchase time. Regularly, as her grip over the state of affairs within the state tightened, she now not wanted to look after these guarantees. Their goal had been served,” Chakraborty stated.

Notably, the Left Entrance had the discharge of political prisoners as considered one of its prime pre-poll agenda in 1977, the watershed election that marked the start of CPI(M) stalwart Jyoti Basu’s 24-year chief ministerial rule. The Left stored their promise and unconditionally launched all political prisoners and withdrew the circumstances towards them, together with the Naxalites and members of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), with the latter arrested largely through the Emergency.

Mamata Banerjee’s focus and priorities might have certainly modified. Earlier than 2011, she used to talk sympathetically in regards to the Maoists when addressing public gatherings within the Jangalmahal space. Forward of the elections in 2021, she has began addressing the victims of Maoist violence. On October 6, she introduced jobs and monetary help as compensation to households of the victims of Maoist violence – those that bought killed or remained lacking for greater than a decade. Most of these could be supporters and staff of the Communist Get together of India (Marxist), which led the Left Entrance authorities and suffered the worst brunt of the Maoist motion.

Maybe, she hopes to arrest the current pattern of Left supporters and staff switching over to the Bharatiya Janata Get together (BJP), her principal opponent at current.

Snigdhendu Bhattacharya is a journalist and writer based mostly in Kolkata.

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