THE Government of India decided on June 22 to include the CPI (Maoist) in the Schedule of organisations banned under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. Biman Bose, Left Front chairman and Communist Party of India (Marxist) Polit Bureau member, said in an exclusive interview to Frontline that Maoists activities cannot be stopped simply by banning their organisation.
Why is the Left Front reluctant to ban the Maoists?
We have issued a statement that the menace of the CPI(Maoist) has to be addressed politically, and in that manner they have to be isolated from the general population. We believe in this process. But it must be said that to protect the lives of the common people of Lalgarh and bring about normality in the region, the administration has to take appropriate steps to curb the violent activities of the Maoists. Lawlessness and violence has to be dealt with seriously by the government. But, at the same time, if we do not motivate the people of the region politically the same people who have been influenced by the Maoists then we will not be able to isolate the Maoists.
I must add here that when we [the Left Front] issued our statement [announcing the decision not to ban the Maoist organisation], we had no idea that the same day, just a few hours later, the Union Home Minister, Mr. Chidambaram, would ban the CPI (Maoist). A section of the media then started harping on differences between the State government and the Left Front. The Left Front and the parties will move in their own way, and the State government will move in its own way. The ban is applicable all over India, and so, in West Bengal too. Now what is to be explored is how this ban is to be applied. This will be determined by the State government. The State government has not once said that it will not implement the ban.
Do you agree with this decision of the Centre?
It is not a question of whether I agree or disagree when such an order is issued and applied all over the country. But we do believe that such [Maoist] activities cannot be stopped by simply banning the organisation. Today you might ban one organisation, but they might start another outfit under a different name and continue with their activities. You are aware that the CPI(M-L) Liberation is now participating in the democratic process; but the CPI (Maoist) has refused to do so. This has to be politically explained to the people.
How do you propose to deal with the situation politically when the Maoists are carrying out a programme of individual annihilation of CPI(M) leaders and supporters and demolishing party offices as well as residences of party workers?
First, I need to explain how the Maoists managed to infiltrate so much in and around the Lalgarh area. Lalgarh falls within the Binpur Assembly constituency, and for the last few terms the Jharkhand Party won from this constituency. Chuni Bala Hansda is the MLA [Member of Legislative Assembly] from there. The Jharkhand Party activists were drawn to Maoist activities. In fact, the same people during day time would be Jharkhand Party workers and at night Maoists. It is not known to many people that the Jharkhand Partys influence even percolated to the gram panchayat level. I can give you specific instances where the Maoists did not allow implementation of certain basic developmental programmes in the area like building roads to connect the region with the rest of the district. The Maoists did not allow it. In fact, they even stalled water supply projects, that too in an area where water is very scarce. Even when funds were allotted by the zilla sabhadipati to dig ponds, they did not go ahead with the project.
But the State government has to do more developmental work in the area. Around 6,900 villages in the State have been identified as most backward areas, and these places have to be developed. Health services need to be improved, safe drinking water needs to be provided, scope of education has to be increased, and the livelihoods of the people have to be bettered.
The land in the Lalgarh region is mostly arid and there is little scope for irrigation. But if they can grow maize in those parts, it will be of economic benefit to the people. The Agriculture Department and the Paschim Anchal Development Parishad should take up programmes like this. And the way the Maoists are misleading them has to be politically combated.
Moreover, not all the tribal people in Lalgarh are the same. Most want to live a normal life, but they have been forced to take part in Maoist activities. More than 30,000 villagers have fled their homes and are living either with relatives and friends in different villages, or in relief camps. They have left their villages because they feel that the Peoples Committee against Police Atrocities [PCPA] and the Maoists will use them as a human shield. They do not want to be used as human shields anymore.
The tribal people have traditionally been supporters of the Left. Has there been something lacking at the grassroots level leadership of the CPI(M) for them to have strayed so far? Everybody saw the vehemence with which the common people, including women, were attacking the house of CPI(M) zonal committee secretary Anuj Pande.
The incident of damaging Anuj Pandes house was clearly a planned action of the anti-CPI(M) forces. The way the story was carried in certain sections of the media gave a wrong impression about Anuj Pande. What people saw was a luxurious building, but what they did not know was that building is not Anuj Pandes alone. It belongs to a joint family of which he is a member. The story that was being spread was that when Anuj Pande came from Bihar he was a pauper. First of all, Pande did not come from Bihar. He was born and brought up in West Bengal. His forefathers moved to this State several generations ago from Bihar. They themselves owned more than 18 mouzas (revenue village). Following the Land Reform Act, they had distributed the excess land to the landless peasantry. They had donated land to schools, libraries, hospitals, and even to the CPI(M) to set up a party office.
The other members of his family have about 10 bighas (one bigha is one-third of an acre) of land in which they cultivate potato, which they keep in the cold storage rather than sell it in the local market. They have a business of fertilizers and pesticides too. Even a few generations ago when Pandes family first came to Lalgarh, they were not paupers.
All these stories and poisonous campaigns were spread by the anti-CPI(M) forces. Look at the house of a CPI(M) whole-timer they would tell the local people to incite them; and the poor locals also got infuriated. But that is a result of slander. It does not mean that the party is alienated from the common people, though we have given a call that more direct contact with the common people is needed.
Initially the local people could not guess the plans of the Maoists. The Binpur Assembly constituency was won only twice by us in 1977 and in 1982. It is the stronghold of the Jharkhand Party, who are being used by the Maoists as I have said earlier. But that does not mean we dont have any influence either. Binpur falls under the Jhargram parliamentary constituency; and this time we won the Jhargram Lok Sabha seat convincingly, securing more votes than any other party. It is possible that our day-to-day contact with the people has slackened a bit, and that is the reason we could not gauge the penetration of the Maoists in the area.
The Maoists were also being guarded by the PCPA. Who has made this Committee? How does it represent the different communities in the area? All the media began terming the movement as a tribal revolt. Chhatradhar Mahato [PCPA chief] is not a tribal. Tribal revolts have always been led by tribal leaders. The CPI (Maoist) activists have always worked under the garb of the PCPA. They started cutting the trees to block the roads; and tribal people never cut trees. Many tribes actually worship trees.
The same people the PCPA and the Maoists who have been saying that the present situation is due to underdevelopment obstructed development and progress. They want to keep the people in misery for their own ends.
The State government may have been under a compulsion to bring in Central forces for operations in Lalgarh. Did the Left Front also want it?
When the life and property of the common people are in jeopardy, when people cannot even live their lives the way they want to, when the democratic rights of the individuals have been snatched, then what is the way out to establish the rule of law? It cannot be done by distributing sweetmeats. In such a situation, the State government has to be firm.
Do you think that once the Maoists have been flushed out of Lalgarh, normality will resume there?
I believe so. But their impact cannot disappear overnight; that is why I have said that politically the CPI (Maoist) has to be isolated. Once the Maoists have been flushed out of Lalgarh, the needs of the people of the region have to be addressed immediately and developmental programmes have to undertaken with the assistance of the panchayati raj system and the government. Only if those programmes can be implemented will the living standards of the people of Lalgarh improve.