Interview Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee.
The naxalite problem in West Bengal, though not as serious as it is in Orissa and Jharkhand, is still a matter of concern for the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Front government in the State. Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, who is also a CPI(M) Polit Bureau member, in an exclusive interview to Suhrid Sankar Chattopadhyay, spoke about combating the menace by not only using force but bringing about certain socio-economic changes in the affected regions. Excerpts:
Could you give us an overview of the naxalite problem in the State? Is it serious or only peripheral? Is it spreading to places other than Bankura, Purulia and Midnapore districts ?
First, we have to go back to the history of the naxalite movement that started at Naxalbari in Darjeeling district. That movement was directly supported by the Chinese Communist Party. It took a serious turn from the village areas of Phansideya and Naxalbari and spread to the towns and also to Kolkata. We could successfully defeat them [revolutionary communists] politically and ideologically. After that, they split and the various groups realised that they took a wrong path in the name of armed revolution. The present Maoist movement in West Bengal is a new phenomenon, not a continuation of the naxalite movement. It has come from Andhra Pradesh, Orissa and Jharkhand.
So far it has not been a serious problem. The CPI(Maoist) activists operate mainly from a few blocks bordering Jharkhand in the districts of Purulia, Bankura and Midnapore, that is, from Bundwan, Ranibund, Birpur and Belpahari. It is mainly in these areas that a few armed groups are trying to create problems, taking advantage of the difficult terrain and using Jharkhand as their rear front after police operations. The Maoist leaders operating here are from other States. Even their team leader is Telugu-speaking. They do have some local contacts but no permanent base here.
The Maoists are trying to spread their influence in some other districts, but they do not have the capacity to do any damage. Even in Kolkata, certain institutions and colleges, and also a few people, mainly teachers, are extending them intellectual support.
Why is such a movement still present in spite of land reforms?
Land is not the only issue for the Maoists. The movement launched in Naxalbari was for land. We supported their stand then. But they wanted to turn it into a revolutionary struggle as a means to capture power and from there the differences arose.
In States such as Andhra Pradesh, Orissa and Chhattisgarh, land is undoubtedly an important issue. In West Bengal, even though we have successfully implemented land reforms and there are no landlords, there are still landless, marginalised people who have no access to agriculture. A section is still dependent on the forest for its livelihood. The Maoists are trying to penetrate into this section and take advantage of its discontent. Their assessment of the political situation is wrong, as are their ideology, programmes and tactics. Individual terrorism is the basis of their ideology.
Is there a programme for these under-developed areas to counter their influence?
Yes. It is important to note that this is not a simple law and order problem. We cannot ignore the socio-economic aspect. We are committed to reach civil administration to the poorest of the poor. We have set up a West Zone Development Council for this region, through which we are addressing certain critical gaps, headed by one of my Ministers, Maheswar Murmu [Minister of State for Forests and Western Region Development Affairs], and the Divisional Commissioner is the executive officer. One major problem here is irrigation. We are providing new irrigation facilities. In these areas we have to depend on rainwater harvesting and dig deep wells. Second, we are setting up infrastructure for people engaged in [collecting] forest produce. We have set up LAMPS - Large Area Multipurpose Societies [tribal cooperatives] - which are building infrastructure for storing kendu leaves, shaal leaves and Babui grass. We have already set up a warehouse for this. We are also giving subsidy for these forest produce. Third, the PHE [Public Health Engineering] Department is active in improving drinking water supply in those areas, and the West Bengal Rural Electricity Development Corporation is trying to reach electricity even to the remotest village. In areas where electric cables are impossible to set up, we are developing solar power. Fourth, we have started deploying medical vans in the remote areas to address immediate problems, because the health centres in these areas are few and far between. Some of the main health problems are skin diseases, gastroenteritis and poor eyesight.
Moreover, in the three Maoist-affected districts we are implementing Rashtriya Sama Bikash Yojana - a Central government scheme under which Rs.45 crores will be spent within three years for the development of the region.
What is West Bengal's stand on the proposed Joint Task Forces to combat the naxalite menace?
We are not going to take part in any joint action with any other State against naxalites. Our problem is related to the border we share with Jharkhand. What we want between us is an exchange of intelligence to address this problem here. Our focus is on the socio-economic development of the western region and political mobilisation of the masses with the correct ideology. Police operation would come only when it is unavoidable.