Violent front

Published : Nov 20, 2009 00:00 IST

Abducted police officer Atindranath Dutta being escorted by Maoist rebels upon his release on October 22.-AP

Abducted police officer Atindranath Dutta being escorted by Maoist rebels upon his release on October 22.-AP

THE Maoist-backed Peoples Committee against Police Atrocities (PCPA) has shed its democratic mask by forming the Sidhu Kanu Gana Militia to wage an armed struggle in and around the Lalgarh region of West Bengals West Midnapore district.

The terror unleashed by the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist) continues unabated in Lalgarh and the contiguous forest land known as Jangalmahal. In a fresh spate of violence, from October 20 to 27, the Maoists and their front organisation, the PCPA, raided a police station, killed two policemen and took the officer-in-charge there hostage; looted a bank; killed a Communist Party of India (Marxist) activist; exchanged fire with the security forces; declared bandh in three districts; and detained the Rajdhani Express train.

Even with 50 companies of State and Central security forces stationed in the region for the past four months, the militants continue to kill indiscriminately and have spread their influence further. Lalgarh has been on the boil for nearly a year now, beginning with the assassination attempt on Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee near the region in November 2008. The subsequent arrests made by the police in the tribal belt led to a violent agitation by the PCPA and its convener Chhatradhar Mahato.

On October 20, with an audacious twin strike in broad daylight, the Maoists demonstrated yet again that their stronghold in the region had not been breached. Armed Maoists attacked the police station at Sankrail near West Midnapore town, killing two officers and taking the officer-in-charge, Atindranath Dutta, hostage. Almost simultaneously they robbed the nearby State Bank of India branch of Rs.9.27 lakh. Dutta was set free two days later in exchange for 14 tribal women from Lalgarh who had been arrested for allegedly having Maoist links.

The heist as well as the hostage-taking, which took less than 30 minutes, were led by a woman. According to official sources, more than 20 armed Maoists, many of them women, stormed into Sankrail on motorbikes on the afternoon of June 20. They shot to death two sub-inspectors at once, but spared the third one after he fell at their feet. After grabbing the weapons and ammunition in the station, they apprehended Dutta.

At the bank too, the Maoists met with no resistance. The gang arrived at around 1-40 p.m. and by 2-00 p.m. it was gone. The leaflets the extremists left behind demanded the release of Mahato and the immediate withdrawal of the security forces from Lalgarh. Mahato, who had managed to evade the police for over three months, was arrested on September 26.

Later that day, CPI (Maoist) politburo member Koteswar Rao alias Kishenji, who is in charge of the Maoist operations in West Bengal, Orissa and Jharkhand, told a television news channel that Dutta would be set free only after the State government released the women arrested on September 3. Dutta was given a prisoner of war status by the Maoists as, according to Kishenji, the Maoists are at war with the state and have to abide by the rules of warfare. But the main reason for the attack on the police station was to collect arms and ammunition. We needed arms and ammunition, as the people of the region demanded it, particularly the women. That is why women cadre were deployed for it, Kishenji told Frontline.

With the Maoists threatening to kill Dutta if the arrested women were not released, the State government was left with little alternative but to release them. On October 22, Dutta was handed over by Kishenji and other Maoists in the presence of lawyers and journalists at Bhulagera village, from where he was escorted by the media to Jhargram town, around 25 kilometres away. At the time of his deliverance, Dutta was made to wear over his clothes a sign that read P.O.W.

Though the tribal women have been released on bail, the charges against them have not been dropped. According to the State Director-General of Police Bhupinder Singh, the judicial process is still on.

Kishenji hailed the release of the tribal women as a great victory. But the Chief Minister categorically stated at a press conference in New Delhi on October 24 that if the Maoists were under the impression that such methods could be used to secure the release of their people, they were mistaken. I will teach them a lesson in the future, he said. As for the two other policemen who have been missing since July 30, presumed to have been abducted by the Maoists, he said: They had gone missing at the beginning of the joint operations at Lalgarh and remain untraced even now, but all efforts are on to find out their whereabouts.

On October 26, the Maoists struck again, killing a CPI(M) activist, Pratap Nayek, a resident of Singhpur village near Lalgarh and a former member of the local panchayat. They also fought a protracted gun battle with security forces in four places in the region.

However, the PCPA leadership seemed ambivalent about the nature of the Sidhu Kanu Gana Militia it has launched to open an armed agitation whether to have it as a militant organisation or as a democratic one.

We will continue our democratic agitation, but the militia will also be active in armed resistance. However, we will not be using firearms, but traditional weapons such as bows and arrows, senior PCPA leader Santosh Patro told Frontline.

According to official sources, the Maoists are now using the PCPA to procure arms and ammunition directly and disburse them among the local people to fight the combined forces. Following this development, Bhupinder Singh reportedly said: If they have turned into a militia, they can no more claim innocence as mere villagers. Our task will be easier.

In protest against the alleged atrocities committed by the security forces against the tribal people of the region, the PCPA called for an indefinite bandh from October 27 in the three Maoist-affected districts of West Midnapore, Bankura and Purulia. On the first day of the bandh itself, PCPA activists held up for nearly five hours the New Delhi-bound Rajdhani Express from Bhubaneswar at Banstala railway station in Jhargram subdivision of West Midnapore.

PCPA activists stood on the railway tracks, waving a red flag and forcing the train to come to a halt. The two drivers and all the passengers were then made to get off the train. Only after the security forces began to close in on the agitators did the activists back off. Kishenji, however, disclaimed any involvement of the Maoists in this operation. The PCPA reiterated its demand for the unconditional release of Mahato and other detainees and also the withdrawal of security forces.

Railway Minister and Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee, who for long had maintained that the PCPA was not a Maoist organisation, expressed shock at the incident, though she did not condemn it. It may be recalled that Mamata Banerjee, at the height of the PCPA movement earlier this year, had even shared the dais with Mahato in Lalgarh. Of late, though, she has been distancing herself from the organisation, as it is becoming increasingly apparent that the PCPA and the CPI(Maoist) are one and the same.

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