West Bengal: The maoists are facing stiff resistance from local people in their stronghold, the Jangalmahal region.
AFTER suffering severe losses at the hands of the Central forces and facing strong resistance from the local people, the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist) appears to be losing its influence in the Jangalmahal area of West Bengal's Paschim Medinipur, Purulia and Bankura districts. The rule of terror that the Maoists had established in the region since November 2008 may well be facing its strongest challenge, this time from the local people whose cause the Maoists profess to espouse.
For over two and half years, the Maoists and their frontal organisation, the People's Committee against Police Atrocities (PCPA), have carried out, almost on a daily basis, a programme of killing, extortion and intimidation. The people put up silently with the situation mainly out of fear of being labelled either a Communist Party of India (Marxist) supporter or a police informer two of the most common excuses the Maoists use for killing people.
However, July 22 turned out to be a day of reckoning for the extremists, when the people of Radhanagar village near Jhargram town in Paschim Medinipur district stood up to them and refused to obey their diktat. Around 20 armed Maoists and PCPA members were in for a nasty surprise when they assembled at the village school playground and demanded that the people participate in a rally organised by them. The residents not only refused to take part in the procession but also chased away the Maoists when they tried to intimidate them with guns and bombs.
Praveen Tripathi, Superintendent of Police, Jhargram district, told Frontline: Now people are getting fed up with being forced to take part in Maoist programmes. The recent successes of the police and the Central forces in combating the Maoists have also boosted the confidence of the people and they are willing to resist the Maoists and want the police to provide more security to them.
The incident in Radhanagar appeared to have inspired people in the villages in and around the region. When the people of Radhanagar held a rally on July 23 to protest against the Maoists' coercive methods, among the thousands who attended it were residents of the neighbouring villages of Gaighata and Bachhurdoba. Even in areas further away from Jhargram town and its police station, people have voiced their discontent with the Maoists.
Two days after being chased out of Radhanagar, the PCPA got a taste of the people's ire in Nishchinta village, about 25 km from Jhargram. On the night of July 24, PCPA members came to the village with the intention of mobilising people to take part in a rally; the people refused to obey and even detained one of the PCPA activists and handed him over to the police the next morning. Arming themselves with scythes, knives and sticks, the people of Jangalmahal have begun to form gram bachao (save the village) committees to put up a united opposition against the Maoists. In fact, according to reports, as many as 52 villages in the region set up such committees within just 10 days of the people's resistance in Radhanagar.
Chandi Karan, a primary school teacher of Lachhipur village in Lalgarh block and a key mobiliser of the local people against the Maoists in several villages, told Frontline: The people in the region are now united irrespective of their political leanings and have decided jointly that they will no longer accept the Maoist writ, nor will they be cowered anymore by their intimidating tactics. If any village here now comes under Maoist attack, neighbouring villages spring to its defence. Recently, some PCPA members tried to sneak into our village at night to put up posters and scatter pamphlets, but the residents chased them away.
The Maoists and the PCPA have tried to reclaim their lost influence in some areas by attacking villages with bombs and bullets, carrying out killings and intimidating residents through pamphlets and posters, but have met with strong opposition. Those who had aligned themselves with the Maoists by joining the PCPA were given the ultimatum either to leave the village or to surrender to the police. On August 1, the residents of Narayanpur tore down Maoist posters on the village walls and burned them.TOP MAOIST KILLED
The Maoists suffered a major setback on the battlefield as well when, on July 26, Sidhu Soren, a very influential Maoist leader in the region, and five other militants were killed in an encounter with the security forces in the jungles of Metala, 25 km away from Lalgarh. Soren was the secretary of the central committee of the PCPA and commander of the Sidhu Kanu Gana Militia, the militant wing of the PCPA. He was also the commander of the Maoist commando squad in Goaltore.
Sidhu Soren's death has dealt a severe blow to the Maoist movement in the region. Few people know the terrain as well as he did and he was feared by all. It will be difficult for the Maoists to find a replacement for him, said an informed local source.
Soren was an accused in over 25 cases of murder and extortion. He was also believed to have been one of the main architects of the Silda massacre in February this year, in which 24 jawans of the Eastern Frontiers Rifles (EFR) were mowed down when they were resting in their camp. Manoj Verma, Superintendent of Police, Paschim Medinipur, told Frontline: After Sidhu Soren's death, we have been receiving a lot of feedback from the local people. Earlier they were too scared to talk, but now they have started coming out to speak to us.
The Maoists have vowed to avenge Soren's death. An area commander of the People's Liberation Guerilla Army is reported as having said, Ask the police and the CPI(M) to prepare themselves for more shocking attacks. After Soren's death, the PCPA announced a State-wide 48-hour bandh from August 3, after seven days of mourning.LOSING BASES
Apart from their stronghold in the forested Lalgarh region in Paschim Medinipur, the Maoists are seen to be losing some of their comparatively newer bases. Earlier, the rebels were spreading out from the core area and establishing areas of influence in the surrounding region. Of late, the reverse is happening; they are going back to the core area, said Manoj Verma. A section of the Maoists have also retreated into places like Nayagram and Gopiballabhpur near the Orissa border.
These are relatively newer areas of their operations, and the local people have already started providing us with information about their activities. There, too, we can see local people overcoming their fear and cooperating with us against the Maoists, said an informed police source. According to Verma, what the local people are now waiting for is the deployment of more police and security forces to protect them in their resistance against the Maoists. At present, around 34 companies of Central forces and the State police are stationed in the Maoist-affected region, and six more companies are due to arrive by the middle of August.
With the security forces closing in on the cadre and the resistance from the local people growing, the Maoist movement in the region is on the wane for the time being. Many members of the movement, particularly new recruits, are looking to return to the mainstream.REHABILITATION PACKAGE
Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said in the State Assembly on July 29 that quite a few Maoists had surrendered and many more had indicated their willingness to do so. The CPI(M)-led Left Front government also announced a rehabilitation package for surrendered extremists. The government would deposit Rs.1.5 lakh in a bank account of each surrendered Maoist, who would also be given a monthly stipend of Rs.2,000 for three years. An extremist who surrenders with a machine gun will be given an additional Rs.25,000, one with an AK-47 will get an additional Rs.15,000 and one with a revolver will get an additional Rs.3,000.
The surrendered rebels would be given vocational training. However, they will not be able to access the bank deposit immediately upon surrendering. If the ex-rebel's conduct is good for a period of three years, he will then be able to withdraw the amount, said State Director General of Police Bhupinder Singh. To make the Maoists aware of this scheme, the government has decided to launch a publicity campaign in the three Maoist-affected districts. Said Bhupinder Singh: Some of the Maoists are keen on getting back to the mainstream but want the government to arrange for their rehabilitation first.