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Maoist terror in West Bengal

Maoist terror in West Bengal

Author: Fakir Mohan Pradhan
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: January 3, 2011
URL: http://www.dailypioneer.com/307761/Maoist-terror-in-West-Bengal.html

Counter-insurgency operations have yielded significant results but it has been a terrible year with West Bengal topping the list of Red terror-hit States

Replying to a question in the State Assembly on December 23, 2010, West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee claimed, "Because of sustained joint operations (against Maoists) by 35 companies of Central Reserve Police Force, six companies of Nagaland Police and 51 companies of State Police, the situation ... has greatly improved... The situation has changed in the past three months. Some of the blocks (in Jangalmahal) are terror free... (But) till the situation improves in Jharkhand and Odisha, it would be difficult to keep West Bengal unaffected. Till such time, the paramilitary forces should be there."

Earlier, in an interview to a TV Channel in Kolkata on November 13, the Chief Minister asserted, "The Maoist leadership is now divided. They are now cornered." Ironically, on December 17, cadre of the CPI(Maoist) had shot dead seven workers of the All-India Forward Block, a party belonging to the ruling Left Front, in Purulia district.

In fact, West Bengal has witnessed a dramatic spurt in Maoist-related fatalities in 2010. According to available data, 425 people, including 328 civilians, 36 security forces personnel and 61 Maoists, including cadre of the Maoist-backed People's Committee Against Police Atrocities, were killed in West Bengal in 2010 till December 26, as against 158 people, including 134 civilians, 15 security forces personnel and nine Maoists killed in the State in 2009.

With this, West Bengal has now earned the dubious distinction of recording the highest Maoist-related fatalities in 2010, dislodging Chhattisgarh which had topped the list since 2006. The intervening years have seen an extraordinary rise in Maoist-related fatalities in West Bengal, from just six in 2005, through 24 in 2008, and up to 158 and 418 people, respectively, in 2009 and 2010.

Significantly, the civilian casualty figure of 328, which includes 148 fatalities in the Gyaneswari Express derailment of May 28, is by far the highest among the Maoist affected States for any past years, followed distantly by Chhattisgarh in 2006 with 189 civilian fatalities. In 2010, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand each recorded 71 civilian fatalities. Civilian fatalities in West Bengal have recorded a 145 per cent increase over the elevated base level of 134 for 2009.

The principal cause for this dramatic escalation is the rapid expansion of the Maoists in the State and their focussed infiltration of the tribal movement in Lalgarh, as a result of which they have taken control of wide areas despite mounting pressure from the security forces. The movement in Lalgarh snowballed after a failed assassination attempt targeting the Chief Minister and then Union Minister for Steel Ram Vilas Paswan at nearby Salboni on November 2, 2008, and the clumsy police responses that followed.

Unlike other States, the expanding Maoist sway is confronted by the organised (and often armed) cadre of the ruling CPI(M) in West Bengal. In order to hold the area under their control, the Maoists have neutralised the CPI(M) cadre base and terrorised the masses - tactics that explain the large number of Marxists and 'sympathisers' among the civilian fatalities in the State. Indeed, of the 328 civilians killed in 2010, CPI(M) leaders and cadre account for as many as 116.

Security forces fatalities have also risen to 36 in 2010, from 15 in 2009, even as 61 Maoists were killed, as against nine in 2009, reflecting increasing direct confrontation between the forces and the Maoists.The State witnessed 14 major incidents (involving three or more casualties) through 2010. The Maoists were also involved in at least 25 cases of landmine explosions, 18 incidents of arson, and two incidents of abduction (an overwhelming majority of abduction cases go unreported because of fear of the Maoists). The Maoists also executed seven 'swarming attacks' involving a large number of their armed cadre in 2010, as against eight such attacks in 2009.

There were, however, major successes scored by the security forces in 2010, including the killing of six Maoists, along with Sidhu Soren, the founding 'commander-in-chief' of Sidhu Kanu Gana Militia, in an encounter on July 26; the Ranja forest encounter of June 16 in which at least 12 Maoists were killed; and, the Hathilot forest encounter of March 25 in which Maoist Politburo member Koteswar Rao alias Kishanji was injured. Most significantly, the PCPA founder-president, Lalmohan Tudu, was killed by the forces on February 22, along with at least two other PCPA cadre.

These operational successes were compounded by key arrests. Four members of the Maoists' West Bengal State Committee, including 'State secretary' Sudip Chongdar alias Kanchan alias Batas, Anil Ghosh alias Ajoyda, Barun Sur alias Bidyut, and Kalpana Maity, wife of Ashim Mondal alias Akash, were arrested from Kolkata on December 3 and 4. A day after these arrests, Asim Mondal alias Akash, a senior member of the State Committee, admitted that "The arrest is unfortunate and no doubt it is a jolt for our organisation."

Earlier, on March 2, 2010, Venkateswar Reddy alias Telugu Dipak, another State Committee member, was arrested near Kolkata. Dipak was the suspected mastermind of the February 15 attack on the EFR camp at Sildah. Indeed, there seems to be an abrupt leadership vacuum among the Maoists in West Bengal with seven of the 11 State Committee members either behind bars or killed.

Further, Bapi Mahato, a prime accused in the Gyaneswari Express derailment as well as a senior member of the Maoist-backed PCPA, was arrested by a joint team of the West Bengal and Jharkhand Police from Jamshedpur in Jharkhand on June 20. At least 245 arrests have been made in 2010 in connection with Maoist activities. On June 18, however, State Chief Secretary Ardhendu Sen claimed that security forces operating in the Jangalmahal area, which includes Bankura, Purulia and West Midnapore districts, had arrested "about 400 to 500 Maoists". Nevertheless, the mastermind behind almost all the Maoist attacks in the region, Koteswar Rao alias Kishanji, CPI(Maoist) Politburo member in charge of West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand and Odisha, remains elusive.

Expecting that the pressure mounted by the security forces would induce some Maoists to lay down arms, the State Government announced its new surrender policy on June 15. The 'package' followed the Union Government guidelines, with a one-off payment of Rs 1,50,000, vocational training for three months, and Rs 2,000 in a monthly stipend for each surrendering cadre. If arms were also surrendered, they would receive, in addition, Rs 15,000 for an AK-47 rifle, Rs 25,000 for a machine gun, and Rs 3,000 for a pistol or revolver. On June 17, West Bengal Director-General of Police Bhupinder Singh said, "We have received feelers that a number of people are willing to surrender." By December 26, however, only five Maoists had surrendered after the announcement of the 'package'.

Despite these successes, however, there is little reason for any great optimism. The Chief Minister's claim that "the situation has changed in the past three months", while not altogether incorrect, nevertheless glosses over the reality of continuing killings in the Jangalmahal area.

- The writer is associated with the Institute for Peace and Conflict Management. Visual shows CPI-M's anti-Maoist posters.

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