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Red Card Offence March 10, 2007

Posted by naxalwatch in Sunil Mahato.
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Who killed Mahto? Enraged Naxalites or envious men within his party?

Indrajit Singh

‘Mess with us and you perish’. That seems to be the message from the Maoists who gunned down Sunil Mahto, the JMM MP from Jamshedpur. With the ultras claiming responsibility for killing the 41-year-old leader, the lid has blown off the Jharkhand government’s tall claims of having reined in the Naxals with “effective” policing. Through Mahto’s killing, the Naxals have once again tried to state that they are a force in the West Bengal-Jharkhand-Chhattisgarh corridor. Jharkhand chief minister Madhu Koda has recommended a CBI probe into the killing and sought the army’s assistance to fight extremism in the state.

It wasn’t that the police was unaware that Mahto was on the Naxal hit list. Yet security provided for the JMM MP was rather thin when he attended a football match at Bakuria in Ghatshila subdivision of East Singhbhum district on the day of Holi. Mahto, who was the chief guest, was personally not too keen for extra security since he saw no threat to himself, though Ghatshila is traditionally an area where Maoists are active.

The shocking killing, ostensibly masterminded by activists of the Communist Party of India (Maoist), took place as the MP was about to give away prizes to the winners of the football match. Eyewitnesses and police sources say a group of 15 Naxalites, disguised as participants at the function, went up to Mahto with garlands and opened fire—first they gunned down the bodyguards and then pumped seven bullets into the MP from close range. A party functionary, Prabhakar Mahto, also died in the shooting. The shooting killed five persons, including the JMM MP.

The Maoists had, at their 10th congress held recently in the forests along the Jharkhand-West Bengal border, resolved to vigorously pursue their “armed struggle”. Reports had it that Mahto had been identified as one of the main targets. The JMM MP was put on the hit list for his campaign against the Naxals through his Nagrik Suraksha Sangharsh Samiti. Contractors, backed by Mahto, were refusing to give in to Naxalite demands for money. This apparently was seen as reason enough for the JMM leader to be taught a lesson. Mahto is the second high-profile politician to be killed by the extremists in Jharkhand. In 2005, CPI(ML) MLA from Bagodar Mahendra Singh too was shot dead by suspected ultras.

Though the Naxals have owned responsibility, a “political conspiracy” behind the murder cannot be ruled out, say police officials. Union minister of state for home Sriprakash Jaiswal also pointed to the possibility of Mahto being a victim of intra-JMM rivalry. With JMM’s Shibu Soren in jail, convicted in the Shashinath Jha murder, it was widely recognised that Mahto would find a berth in the Union cabinet. An anti-Mahto lobby, unhappy with the MP’s sudden rise, may have masterminded the killing, according to one theory.

Mahto was very much part of the agitation that eventually led to the creation of Jharkhand. As a student leader, he remained in the forefront of the All Jharkhand Students Union politics. A potential leader of the JMM, Mahto was known for his oratory and ability to connect with people. Being a man of the masses, his instruction to his guards was simple on March 4: let the people come in freely and have his darshan. It’s now evident that this openness proved too costly for him.