NAXALBARI: “I shouldn’t have agreed to feed Amit Shah. That one simple meal has cost very dearly for us. Our life was very simple and happy before I prepared that lunch for him,” says Geeta Mahali, a tribal woman in Dakshin Kothiyajote village in Naxalbari whose life has changed since she prepared a meal of rice, pulses and vegetables for Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president Amit Shah during his visit to the region on April 25.
After the fated lunch, Geeta and her husband Raju went missing for a week and then emerged to join the Trinamool Congress (TMC) on May 3 in the presence of tourism minister Goutam Deb. While BJP alleged that the Mahalis were kidnapped and forced to join TMC, the ruling party refuted the allegations saying that Mahalis’ decision was voluntary and not under pressure.
“We had gone to meet our relatives in Matigara (near Siliguri) after April 25. We had planned beforehand of joining the TMC,” Geeta said. When asked why then she fed BJP president Amit Shah, Geeta said with a shrug: “I did not know who Amit Shah was. They asked me to feed him and I agreed.”
“However, people in the neighbourhood first alleged that we got Rs 3 lakh for feeding Amit Shah and now say we got Rs 3 lakh for joining TMC. Had we remained so poor with Rs 6 lakh? Just because we are poor doesn’t mean that anyone can allege anything,” she added.
Even as Geeta Mahali speaks with the New Indian Express at her semi-pucca house, the two-man police picket in front of the house informed of our visit to Naxalbari Police Station. “We have to inform about every visit to the Mahalis to our officers,” said one of the deployed police constable.
On the other hand, BJP stuck to its stand on the Mahalis. “Amit Shah wanted to have lunch at an ordinary family’s hearth. Hence, we randomly approached Geeta Mahali. We had no motive to make her join BJP. However, the way she joined TMC a week later is very unusual and indicates that the Mahalis were pressurised,” said BJP Darjeeling district president Praveen Aggarwal.