Murder campaign

Published : Sep 11, 2009 00:00 IST

POLICEMEN GUARD THE bodies of CPI(M) supporters Gurucharan Mahato and Barendranath Mahato, allegedly killed by Maoists, in Sirsi village near Lalgarh on July 11.-AFP POLICEMEN GUARD THE bodies of CPI(M) supporters Gurucharan Mahato and Barendranath Mahato, allegedly killed by Maoists, in Sirsi village near Lalgarh on July 11.

POLICEMEN GUARD THE bodies of CPI(M) supporters Gurucharan Mahato and Barendranath Mahato, allegedly killed by Maoists, in Sirsi village near Lalgarh on July 11.-AFP POLICEMEN GUARD THE bodies of CPI(M) supporters Gurucharan Mahato and Barendranath Mahato, allegedly killed by Maoists, in Sirsi village near Lalgarh on July 11.

THE banned Communist Party of India (Maoist) has underlined its presence in Lalgarh in West Bengals West Medinipur district through a spate of killings in spite of the 50 companies of security forces that are stationed there. As of August 19, as many as 19 murders by the Maoists had been reported since the deployment two months ago of Central forces, the Combat Battalion for Resolute Action (Cobra), and the State police to flush them out of the Jangalmahal (as the forested part of the region is locally called) area in the district.

Forty-five people, mostly Communist Party of India (Marxist) leaders and workers and a few members of the Jharkhand Party (Naren), have been killed in the area by Maoists and activists of the Maoist-backed Peoples Committee Against Police Atrocities (PCPA) since November 2008 after a failed attempt on Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjees life at Kalaichand near Lalgarh.

The continuing violence has prompted the State government to concede that the Central forces operation in Lalgarh has been a failure. Almost every day Maoists kill or abduct people. Our target was to arrest the Maoists or flush them out of the area, but current incidents show we have not been very successful, State Home Secretary Ardhendu Sen said at a press conference on August 6.

There have been regular exchanges of fire between the combined forces and Maoists ever since the police operations started on June 18. The killings by Maoists stopped for a while initially. In fact, by July 4, when the security forces recaptured Madhupur, the last Maoist bastion in the region, it was widely believed that the Maoists were on the run and that normalcy was about to return. A high-level task force consisting of senior bureaucrats even visited the area to take stock of its developmental needs.

As it turned out, there was little cause for celebration. In a sudden move, on July 10, Maoists killed two CPI(M) supporters, Barendranath Mahato and Gurucharan Mahato, in separate incidents at Sirsi village. They struck again on July 13, killing two farmers, Swapan Debsingha and Tarini Debsingha, apparently for supporting the CPI(M), in Madhupur, just a few kilometres away from the police camps at Khadibandh and Ramgarh.

Although Chhatradhar Mahato, the PCPA chief, and other leaders went into hiding, the committees activities continued under the direction of the Maoists. Demonstrations and rallies, clashes with the police and the ransacking of CPI(M) offices resumed, and threatening posters reappeared.

For about eight months before the police operations started, Maoists and the PCPA held sway in the area. They refused to allow the State police to enter the area, in protest against the arrests that had taken place following the attempt on the Chief Minister. Little seems to have changed since. The situation is still very serious. We are keeping a close watch on the developments, Manoj Verma, Superintendent of Police, West Medinipur, told Frontline. According to him, most of the killings were taking place where the police presence was weak or absent.

On July 18, Jaladhar Mahato, a CPI(M) leader in the Jhargram subdivision, and Ashok Ghosh, a party worker from Goaltore, were killed in separate incidents. The same day, just before the killings took place, Maoist posters were found on the walls of shops at Ramkrishna Bazaar in Jhargram announcing: CPI(M) leaders will be beheaded soon. The posters named the areas CPI(M) leaders on the Maoists hit list.

On July 22, Maoists gunned down Fagu Baske, a CPI(M) leader, near the Jharkhand border, giving an indication of the reach of their information network. Baske, a branch committee secretary in Madhupur village, had been in hiding for a few months and had just returned to his village to work on his field. According to police sources, that his killers were waiting for him suggests that they had prior information of his whereabouts. Baske was shot 14 times. The site of the killing barely 500 metres from the Jharkhand border is also significant. On July 8, a high-level meeting took place in Ranchi between the West Bengal Police and the Jharkhand Police to chalk out a strategy for joint operations against the Maoists.

On the same day that Baske was killed, armed Maoists herded several CPI(M) leaders and activists from different villages and forced them to squat holding their ears and declare their disassociation from the CPI(M). Many CPI(M) workers have resigned from the party in recent weeks, either at gunpoint or in fear.

On July 28, a team of Trinamool Congress leaders, including Leader of the Opposition in the Assembly Partha Chatterjee, Union Minister of State for Shipping Mukul Roy, and Union Minister of State for Rural Development Sisir Adhikari, visited Lalgarh.

Addressing separate gatherings in the region, they demanded immediate withdrawal of the Central forces and came down heavily on the police activities there. The State police are committing atrocities against innocent people in the name of flushing out Maoists. We will appeal to the Centre to withdraw its forces immediately and start developmental programmes here at the earliest, said Partha Chatterjee.

The Trinamool Congress now finds itself in an uncomfortable position vis-a-vis the PCPA. It proclaimed its support to the committees cause in February, when Trinamool supremo Mamata Banerjee shared the dais with Chhatradhar Mahato in Lalgarh. However, the party has been trying to distance itself from the PCPA for the past two months. Mamata Banerjee has maintained a stony silence on CPI (Maoist) polit bureau member Koteswar Raos exhortation to her to choose a side, particularly since the Maoists had fought alongside the Trinamool against the CPI(M) in the bloody turf battle in Nandigram in East Medinipur district and had supported the Trinamool in its opposition to the proposed chemical hub at Nayachar in the same district.

During their last visit to Lalgarh, the Trinamool leaders did not even try to contact the PCPA leaders, although they alleged police atrocities and demanded withdrawal of the Central forces. Soon after the departure of the Trinamool leaders, PCPA supporters clashed with the police they organised a huge rally in defiance of prohibitory orders under Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code.

On July 30, just two days after the Trinamool leaders visit, the Maoists abducted Sagar Masanto, a CPI(M) leader from Goaltore. His mutilated body was found the next day. The same day, two policemen on patrol duty in the Lalgarh area, Kanchan Garai and Sabir Mollah, went missing. The following day saw a heavy exchange of fire between the Maoists and the security forces in the Jhitka forest as operations to trace the missing policemen began. As of August 19, there was no information on their whereabouts.

On August 1, while the security forces and the Maoists were locked in a gun battle that continued late into the night, armed militants shot dead Kalipada Singh, a leader of the Ganapratirodh Committee (GPC), a committee set up in December 2008 by the local people to resist the Maoists, in his house at Chirgoda village in Belpahari in West Medinipur district. That was the first time that the Maoists killed a GPC leader. The Maoists main target had been CPI(M) leaders and activists. The GPC, of course, has the backing of the CPI(M) and the police, but Kalipada Singh was not a party member.

On August 2, the Maoists murdered Nirmal Mahato, secretary of the CPI(M)s branch committee at Amdanga in the Lalgarh area, outside his home. A statement sent to Frontline through an SMS by Maoist leader Bikas read: The PLGA [Peoples Liberation Guerilla Army] has meted out the right punishment to Ganapratirodh Committee leader Kalipada. We tried to kill Nirmal last year, but he survived. The verdict of the people turned against him as he was helping the combined forces. The PLGA executed the verdict of the people.

The same night, armed assailants killed Nagen Singh Sardar, a former Maoist who joined the GPC, and the next afternoon, killed Gurucharan Tudu, another GPC activist. In the early hours of August 5, Sankar Das Adhikari, a CPI(M) supporter from Chilgora village near Dharampur, and Gunadhar Singh, yet another GPC member, were killed. On August 6, suspected Maoists killed three local people who worked as night guards in a cold storage plant in the Binpur block. All three were members of the Jharkhand Party (Naren), and one of them, Budheswar Hansda, was a relative of Binpur MLA and Jharkhand Party (Naren) leader Chunibala Hansda.

Even as the State government laboured to formulate a strategy to combat Maoist terror in Lalgarh, killings, armed rallies, abductions and threats continued to be the order of the day in and around the area. On August 7, Bikas himself led a rally near Dharampur, at which he reportedly denied a Maoist hand in the killing of the three Jharkhand Party (Naren) members and in the disappearance of the two missing policemen. The following night, however, another CPI(M) supporter and GPC leader, Manik Mondal, was killed, and a Jharkhand Party (Naren) activist, Ramapada Mandal, was critically injured by Maoists in Belpahari. On August 10, Bikash claimed to have killed Paritosh Misra, a Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI) leader from Dherua.

After weeks of lying low, Chhatradhar Mahato resurfaced on August 17 to hold an open meeting at Mongladanga, in violation of Section 144 clamped in the area. The much-hyped public rally, which was announced days earlier, was supposed to take place near a police outpost at Gohomidanga. When the police arrived to prevent the rally, the organisers managed to outwit them by simply shifting the venue to Mongladanga, a few kilometres away. Mahato, who is a most wanted man and has innumerable criminal cases against him, addressed a gathering of around 1,000 people in the televised public meeting, once again reasserting the hold Maoists have in the area. The same day, yet another CPI(M) activist was abducted and a Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) jawan was injured in a gun battle with the Maoists. The PCPA also called for an indefinite bandh in Jangalmahal.

It appears, therefore, that the Maoists are still asserting their presence in and around Lalgarh. When Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram referred to the killing fields of West Bengal and urged the State government to take immediate action so that the Central forces could be withdrawn early, there was naturally a volley of protests from the Left. Many political observers also read in it an implied threat to the State government: the implication of a breakdown of the constitutional machinery that might lead to the promulgation of Presidents Rule and early elections, as Mamata Banerjee has long demanded. As the blame game continues, the hapless village residents are caught in the crossfire.

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