Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Tribals used as pawns in Maoists' game

By Nilotpal Basu

29 Jun 2009, 0536 hrs IST, TNN

Lalgarh has attracted an unbelievable amount of frontpage news space and primetime slots, not only in Bengal but also nationally. Why has the media otherwise obsessed with cricket or Bollywood shown signs of such an overwhelming interest in a subject so intensely political (or drab,' as one may put it)?

One cannot dismiss the new-found interest in Lalgarh as trivial. Unfortunately, the Lalgarh question has seldom been addressed in a holistic manner.

What does Lalgarh signify? Is it about a "revolutionary" Maoist insurrection? Is it purely a collective expression of innocent tribal outrage against "failed governance"? Or is it about the collapse of CPI(M) in the western districts of Bengal? Was the violence, so clearly directed against CPI(M) and the administration, spontaneous?

An attempt to answer these questions might help us unravel reality from consciously built myth; or, in the words of Deng Xiao Ping, one of Mao's closest comrades and a fellow long marcher, "To seek the truth from the facts".

West Bengal, Naxalbari to be precise, has been the cradle of ultra-Left movement in the country. It could have spread to other parts of the state, but the rural poor refused to be swayed by extremism, cherishing the fruits of the most comprehensive agrarian reforms. The Rightwing security doctrinaires in the wake of Lalgarh, however, refused to concede this achievement to the economic, political and importantly, ideological battle of the organized Left.

The Maoist activities were particularly intense after the formation of CPI(Maoist) with the merger of CPI-ML(PW) group and MCC. The new entity, however, differs fundamentally from the Naxalilte movement of the Sixties. While the latter sprung out of incorrect assessment of the method and course of the agrarian reforms, the Maoists do not believe in partial struggle to mobilize the rural poor to achieve mass demands. Ganapati, the general secretary of CPI(Maoist), has been quite candid: "Our choice of remote forest areas for our guerrilla activities are prompted to suit our military strategic needs." It has to do very little with the concern for uplifting the lot of the poor tribals.

In Lalgarh, what has been evident is not the urgency to lead the tribals to articulate their sufferings, but a calculated move to use these hapless people as human shields and use them as pawns to quench the drive for establishing military control. Not that there is no issue of development in Lalgarh. But the questions of jal, jangal and jameen (water, forest and land), which inspire tribal disquiet in the rest of the country, has in fact played little role in Lalgarh.

The simple reason is that the most important issue land has been largely addressed in these tribal-dominated areas. Till 2008, a total of 1,76,668 tribals have received land pattas for 1,97,350.49 acres. This is in West Midnapore district alone. On the forest produce, 88 LAMPS have been created to facilitate the earnings of tribals from forest wealth, aimed at undermining the role of the contractors who exploited them. In fact, it is revealing that PCPA leader Chhatradhar Mahato happened to be a forest contractor.

But this is not to say that there is no need to redouble efforts to address development concerns. The early activities of the Maoists in the region were specifically aimed at undermining the creation of physical and social infrastructure.

Lalgarh, and the three other gram panchayat areas that stand pivotal to Maoist activities, were never CPI(M) bastions. All four are presently controlled by the Trinamool-Jharkhand Party-Congress combine. The Assembly seat of Binpur, under which Lalgarh falls, is held by Jharkhand party (Naren). So, the majority of the mainstay of the movement are not CPI(M) deserters.

This is not to say that political opponents need not be won over. The battle against Maoists will have to be grounded in efforts to overcome the development deficit and isolate them from people. Firm administrative actions to silence the guns is not the be-all and end-all of our battle to deliver justice to tribals and the rural poor. It can usher in a new phase of initiatives on the social, economic, political and ideological fronts. We owe this to the victims of mindless violence. A consensus across political parties to pursue this objective is the need of the hour.

The writer is CPI(M)'s central committee member

‘Maoists’ And Their Friends In West Bengal

By Debasish Chakraborty

People’s Democracy, June 28, 2009

IN the seventies, a new term became popular in West Bengal: “Congxal”. It was used to identify Naxalite-turned-Congress hoodlums. Initially these elements launched attacks against CPI(M) activists, particularly in and around Kolkata, in the name of “revolution”. After the rigged assembly elections in 1972, a large section of these thugs became Youth Congress activists and a second phase of murderous assault against the Left started. It is well known that more than 1100 CPI(M) activists and supporters were killed and more than 20,000 were forced to leave their homes during the semi-fascist terror period of 1971-77. The infamous Siddarth Shankar Ray regime in West Bengal adopted a two-pronged strategy: on the one hand, a section of the Naxalite activists were brutally killed by the police and Congress workers, on the other, another section was used as murder gangs against CPI(M).

History does not repeat itself but resemblances are not that rare.

From 2001, ‘Maoists’ (Peoples’ War Group and MCC independently and from 2004 their joint party, CPI–Maoists) started a concerted attack on organised Left forces in Bengal. They concentrated mainly on the three districts of West Midnapore, Purulia and Bankura. Till date 73 CPI(M) leaders and activists were killed by them in these districts, while hundreds of others have been forced to leave their homes. It is true that the Maoists have been able to create a reign of terror in large parts of the “Jangal mahal” or the forest areas of these districts. But it is also clear enough that their target was CPI(M) and no one else. Interestingly, not a single activist of Trinamool Congress, Congress or various factions of Jharkhand Party (including JMM) was touched!


What are the politics and the game plan behind these attacks?

Firstly, the above mentioned three districts are strong bases of the CPI(M). The base has not emerged one fine morning; it was achieved through long and arduous struggles on the question of land and livelihood. The CPI(M) and the panchayats after 1977 worked massively in poorer and backward areas of these districts, particularly for the upliftment of the tribals. There was a dramatic improvement in the standard of living of thousands of people in those areas during the last three decades. The CPI(M), naturally, has a strong political presence in most of these areas. The armed attacks were the only available option for other political forces to break that base. ‘Maoists’ were encouraged by anti-CPI(M) forces to achieve this goal, which they themselves could not do.

Secondly, political geography is important here. Despite a large area of influence, there were certain areas in these districts, particularly in Lalgarh, Binpur blocks in West Midnapore, where CPI(M) was relatively weak. Factions of Jharkhand Party were in control of panchayats, and even won assembly seats with support from the Congress or the TMC. ‘Maoists’ chose those particular areas as their primary bases and the Jharkhandi leaders were quick to surrender. In fact, it was Jharkhandis at first, and then TMC activists who played the role of facilitators for the Maoists.

In spite of development initiatives, many tribal-dominated areas in these districts are still backward. The Left Front government on its own initiated a Human Development Report in 2004 in which many villages in these areas were identified as backward. Interestingly, many of these villages, including villages in Belpahari, Kantapahari, Amlasol are run by Jharkhand Party panchayats. They lagged far behind others in implementing developmental projects. For the last six to seven years, it is the ‘Maoists’ who aggressively opposed any efforts of development. They have destroyed bridges, chased away road construction workers, and blasted tourism buildings, even panchayat offices. They killed doctors and nurses through mine blasts. And, from November last year, their font-organisation “Peoples’ Committee” has dug up roads, destroyed bridges, blocked all kinds of administrative activities.

Another reason why the ‘Maoists’ chose to operate in this area is that it lies in the West Bengal-Jharkhand border. It is well known that the ‘Maoists’ operate in hilly terrain, remote plateaus, densely forest areas in all the states where they are somewhat active. It is not because that they are concerned about the tribal people, but it is part of their military strategy. They choose areas where so-called ‘guerrilla activities’ can be run in a relatively easier way. Particularly in Jharkhand, the ‘Maoists’ enjoy a free run. For quite a long time now, the Jharkhand administration has shown very little seriousness in dealing with them. Moreover, there is virtually no influential political party in Jharkhand which challenges these forces politically. ‘Maoists’ followed a hit and run policy in the border areas. Whenever there was any security offensive, they crossed the border and took shelter in their safe havens in the neighbouring state.


But most important of all and what can be considered as the special political perspective of ‘Maoists’ activities in West Bengal is their close affinity with the other anti-Left political forces, particularly Trinamool Congress, the main opposition force in the state. Their partnership expanded from western districts to other areas of the state, for example in Nandigram and Singur.

Apart from numerous reports of ‘Maoists’ active participation in Nandigram and their armed attacks along with the TMC gangs, the political and organisational documents of the ‘Maoists’ have also proven the complicity. They have, in fact, evolved a theoretical perspective for justifying this complicity. In a document, published in December, 2008 and circulated among the ‘Maoist’ rank and file, the ‘Maoist’ leaders have emphasised the need of a “united front” with anti-CPI(M) “ruling class parties” and particularly with the TMC. The document, titled “Some important problems in our work and their solutions”, asserted that as the CPI(M) is a “social fascist force” , it is important to organise “anti-fascist” front with other ruling class parties. Whoever wants to join in such “fronts” are welcome. Without giving any scope of confusion, the document has stated that Mamata Banerjee, the leader who was in the forefront of the “struggle” in Singur should be supported and ‘Maoist’ cadres should work closely with her. According to them, West Bengal is now a “flaming field” and many united fronts are emerging. All such joint operations should be encouraged. In another document evaluating the Nandigram episode, the ‘Maoists’ have clearly stated that they were in the forefront of armed activities, including arms training to BUPC, the organisation which spearheaded the agitation against land acquisition. The BUPC was led by TMC and it existed even after the chief minister categorically announced that there would be no land acquisition in Nandigram in February, 2007. In the document the ‘Maoists’ proudly claimed that though they were in leading position in armed aggression and killing of CPI(M) activists in Nandigram from the very beginning, the other parties accepted their leadership from July, 2008. They claimed that that it was an “achievement” that the other parties openly acknowledged the role of ‘Maoists’. They even acclaimed that TMC leaders “fought the war” in close cooperation with them.

During the ongoing security operation in Lalgarh, top ranking Maoist leader M Koteswar Rao alias “Kishenji” has given long interviews to the electronic media. In fact, he was busy in explaining things from morning to midnight in mobile phone interviews. Kishenji has categorically stated and the entire audience listened that ‘Maoists’ helped the TMC in Nandigram in “ousting” CPI(M) and in reciprocation they want Mamata Banerjee’s help to stop central security forces from entering Lalgarh. This mutual relationship was no secret though to any independent political observer in the state.


It would be wrong to singularly identify the Maoists though. A rainbow alliance emerged in West Bengal with the sole target of weakening CPI(M) in whatever way. Apart from anti-Left parties joining together, it included even basically fundamentalist organisations which were raising a false alarm of “conscious deprivation of Muslim minorities” and foreign funded NGOs.

The situation in some parts of West Midnapore, Purulia and Bankura was far from normal for at least the last five years. CPI(M) leaders and supporters were brutally killed and the Party could not move in many areas. The situation escalated after the landmine blast in an attempt to kill the chief minister in early November last year when he along with the then union minister of steel Ramvilas Paswan went for laying the foundation of a steel project in Salboni. Just as the state police moved in to search for the culprits, the ‘Maoists’ formed an organisation called “Peoples’ Committee to resist police atrocities”. The roads were dug up and villagers were forced to block all movement in the area. From then on, virtually a reign of terror was unleashed in the entire area. It was a ploy to expand the bases of ‘Maoists’ while the blockade continued. All government offices were virtually closed, schools ceased to function, villagers were forced to pay huge “levies’ to Maoists. CPI(M) activists were killed and many of them were forced to declare that they would leave the CPI(M). The state government exhibited great restraint considering the sensitive aspect of involvement of a section of the tribals. The chief minister publicly stated a number of times that the Left Front government would not be run by the police and it was trying to avoid bloodshed at any cost. However, the ‘Maoists’ escalated the bloodshed and almost every day CPI(M) cadres and sympathizers were killed. It was the exhibition of brutality on the part of “Peoples’ Committee” as dead bodies were left unattended and the family members were not allowed to touch them.

The complicity of TMC was evident here too. The secretary of “Peoples Committee” Chatradhar Mahato is a known Trinamool Congress activist while the president of this outfit Sidhu Soren is a squad member of the ‘Maoists’. Sashadhar Mahato, the younger brother of Chatradhar, is the zonal commander of the ‘Maoists’ and a declared absconder for many crimes. The story does not end here. On February 4, 2009, just before the elections were declared, Mamata Banerjee herself went to Lalgarh to attend a public meeting and shared the dais with Chatradhar Mahato. She declared, with grand fanfare, that the so-called Lalgarh agitation is another “Santhal Rebellion”. While no CPI(M) activists were even allowed to enter his own village in Lalgarh, Mamata Banerjee was welcomed by the ‘Maoists’. The attack against CPI(M) intensified after that meeting.

After the TMC-Congress combine won 26 seats in the recent Lok Sabha elections, murderous attacks against CPI(M) started in many parts of the state. Party offices and the houses of CPI(M) leaders were burnt in Nandigram and Khejuri in East Midnapore district. More than 25 CPI(M) activists were killed in the state post elections. In West Midnapore, ‘Maoists’ gathered forces from Jharkhand and unleashed massive attacks in villages. Of course, in some of the villages they were resisted.

After the state government finally decided to take control of the situation in a firm manner and central security forces joined in, the TMC opposed any intervention by the security forces. Mamata Banerjee even went to the extent of calling this operation as “state sponsored terrorism”. She organised and participated in a march in Kolkata on June 22 to protest against the operation by the security forces in Lalgarh. But, as political pressure mounted, the railway minister has shrugged off her relationship with Maoists and Peoples Committee.

The CPI(M) in West Bengal, on the other hand, has reiterated its conviction of fighting the Maoists politically. In fact, it is in West Bengal that the ‘Maoists’ faced a determined political force for the first time in the whole country, a force which is strong enough to challenge them and is ready for highest sacrifice, while mobilising the masses for a resistance against this murderous mayhem.
The writer is CPI(M) West Bengal state committee member.