In Bengal, many former Maoists in poll fray as Trinamool candidates
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Hamlet Mandi, 26, used to be a Maoist squad member whose name evoked fear in Junglemahal. He is now a Trinamool Congress (TMC) panchayat samity candidate from Kanko anchal in Binpur, West Midnapore. He has five cases pending against him, including two murder charges.
Hamlet is one of the many former Maoists in the fray for the panchayat elections, scheduled to be held next month. Some have already been elected unopposed. Most are fighting as TMC candidates.
Hamlet was recruited by Maoist area commander Subodh Hansda, in 2009. "When I was 22, I left home. In 2010-end, I was arrested. After 10 months, I was granted bail," said Hamlet, who joined the TMC after his release.
Two of his former squad members — Lakshikanta Mahato, accused in six murder cases, and Yuvaraj Murmu, accused in five murder cases — now campaign for him.
"We went underground after joining the Maoists. We were ordered to recruit teenagers, and given the task of raising funds from government employees in the area by making them pay 25 per cent of their salaries. We were told to prepare a list of corrupt persons in the area, who would then be killed by the squads," said Mahato.
Hamlet and his comrades often face threats from Maoists now. "We are scared, if they manage to regroup, they will kill us. But the administration is helping us a lot," said Hamlet.
In Kharbandhi anchal in Gopiballavpur area of West Midnapore district — once the Maoists' core area — the TMC has won nine of the 10 seats uncontested. Most of the candidates are former Maoists.
There is Dulal Mandi, accused in three murder cases, who has won from Balipal. "I used to be a TMC worker earlier. We once caught a Maoist, Sushil Mahato, who was extorting money in our village. We called the police, but got no help. After that, the Maoists would threaten us everyday. Finally, I joined the squad to save my family," said Dulal, who was arrested in January 2011.