EVEN as the People's War Group (PWG) in Andhra Pradesh came forward with a unilateral ceasefire offer, two ultra-Left extremist groups in Jharkhand, the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) and the People's War (P.W.) went on the offensive. (The latter was formed in Bihar after the PWG's merger with the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Party Unity.)
During a three-day economic blockade from May 6 to 8 called by the MCC and the P.W., their cadre triggered a landmine explosion at Sadgama in Koderma district, killing 15 policemen. The police personnel were in a patrol van that was crossing a bridge, located some 90 km from Koderma in the forest area of southern Jharkhand. The activists also blew up the railway tracks between Hehegarha and Chiptohar and Bendi and Kaumundi stations in Latehar district and set fire to an electric locomotive. The blockade affected the transportation of coal and other minerals as also road and rail traffic. The naxalites did this in protest against the Supreme Court verdict upholding the death sentence passed on three MCC activists in connection with the Bara massacre of June 3, 1987, in which 34 upper caste men were killed. In a statement released to the press in Ranchi, the two groups said that their protest against "state oppression" would continue and they were equipped with "parallel machinery" to cripple the State administration in southern Jharkhand.
Bihar is comparatively free from the naxalite menace as most of its naxal-infested districts now form part of Jharkhand. The only naxalite group operating in that State is the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation, which believes in mass struggle through parliamentary politics and is opposed to "individual annihilation". However, the MCC and the P.W. still have some pockets of influence in Bihar.
At least 12 of the 22 districts of Jharkhand are naxalite-infested. The ongoing violence has forced Chief Minister Babulal Marandi to offer "special benefits" to extremists who are willing to give up armed struggle and surrender. The MCC and the P.W. have rejected the offer.
The MCC and the P.W. have turned isolated pockets in Orissa, Chhattisgarh and West Bengal into a veritable war zone and are desperately trying to step up their armed action. The P.W. operates in areas along the Orissa-Chhattisgarh border, with its bases in Dandakaranya and Bastar respectively.
The naxalite menace took centrestage in West Bengal politics when on May 5 Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee declared a challenge at a public meeting in the P.W.-stronghold of Raipur in Medinipur district that his government would not hesitate to take on the extremists if they did not shun violence. "We urge the P.W. and the MCC to give up violence, stop killing innocent people and fight the Communist Party of India (Marxist) politically. If they refuse, we will tackle them in the way we think fit. Activists of the P.W. and the MCC are cowards. They hide themselves in the deep forests and kill our men and police officials at night. This is not politics," the Chief Minister said. Over the last two years the MCC and the P.W. have been operating in West Bengal's Medinipur, Bankura and Purulia districts. While Medinipur is close to the West Bengal-Orissa border, Bankura and Purulia are adjacent to Jharkhand. At least 10 persons belonging to the CPI(M), either leaders or party workers, have been killed by the naxalites in the last two years in Medinipur.
A day after Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee's warning, the extremist organisations issued a counter-threat, naming three local CPI(M) leaders who, they said, were on their immediate hit list - Anil Mahato, Nimai Mandi and Pelaram Tudu. Informed sources said that five masked men, armed with sophisticated weapons, entered Asri village in Medinipur district after midnight and woke up the people by knocking at their doors. Within an hour, the residents of the village were gathered to hear the extremists. One of the masked men named the three leaders again and vowed to annihilate them soon. He asked the villagers "not to serve as police informers", and warned that they would "face similar consequences" if they did.