Once partied with Cong, Trinamool, now he leads tribals in West Bengal

He was barely in his teens, in fact a Class X student, when he had his first brush with politics as he began taking part in rallies demanding rights for tribals. And the man who inspired him was not a leader, but his political science teacher in his school who was an active Congress supporter.

Today, Chhatradhar Mahato, the leader of the Police Santrash Virodhi Janagoner Committee at Lalgarh, does not see eye to eye with the Congress, which he says is equally responsible, along with the CPM, for the plight of tribals in Bengal.

The eldest of three brothers, Mahato was born in 1964 at a tiny hamlet of Amlia in Lalgarh. Usually referred in the government and political circles as the face of an underground Maoist outfit, he gained prominence following the Salboni blast in last November .

After clearing his Higher Secondary examination from Lalgarh Ramakrishna Mission Vidyapith, Mahato enrolled himself at Midnapore Day College where he became an active member of the Chhatra Parishad, student wing of the Congress. Rightly so, he claims to have been greatly influenced by the Congress during the 80s. When Mamata Banerjee formed the Trinamool Congress in 1998, Mahato became a supporter of the party.

Interestingly, while Banerjee clarified that the tribal leader was not a member of her party, Mahato also said, "I am a mere Trinamool supporter. I never held any post in the party."

In 2001, Mahato and his brother Shashadhar were arrested on charges of anti-national activities and jailed for three months. After the release Shashadhar became an active Maoist activist. In fact, the three months in jail became a turning point in Mahato's life.

"Even there was no charge against me, the police tortured me. The CPM engineered a social boycott of my family after my arrest. But I fought back," said the diminutive man wearing a golden frame spectacles.

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