December 11, 2011

Isolate ‘Maoists’ Politically for Enduring Peace in Jangal Mahal

By Nilotpal Basu 

ULTIMATELY, the truth has come out. Not that it was not known;  but now that it has come straight from the, so to say, horse’s mouth;  the chief minister of West Bengal and the Trinamool Congress supremo has eventually lashed out at the ‘Maoists’ for their heinous crime of engineering the Ganeshwari Express tragedy  which took the toll of 148 innocent lives. Contrary to what she has been claiming all this while that the CPI(M) and the Left was responsible for the tragedy to defame her and the Railway ministry – she has ultimately conceded that it was clearly the handiwork of the ‘Maoists’. 

What is the provocation for this belated ‘discovery’? Two activists of the Trinamool Congress had been gunned down by a ‘Maoist’ squad in a hamlet on the foothills of Ajodhya in Purulia district – an integral part of the jangal mahal area in West Bengal which continues to remain infested by ‘Maoist’ activity. There is no doubt that these were murders most vile and all right thinking people would condemn these with all the strength that one can muster.  The bodies of these hapless victims were brought to Kolkata and in front of the statue of Mahatma Gandhi – the `apostle of peace’ – that the chief minister blurted out her ‘pearls of wisdom’.     

The travails of the TMC and its maverick supremo are not only bizarre as one would think. It is at the same time extremely sinister. The growth of the ‘Maoists’ – obviously, not in terms of popular support but its depredations and mindless violence in the districts adjoining the Jharkhand and Orissa borders – was quite strange. Any avid reading of the history of Left adventurism in the country makes one to come to an interesting conclusion. While Naxalbari was the cradle of the Left adventurist movement in the country and the CPI(M) and  the Left suffered most due to its violence in the late sixties and early seventies, the movement completely petered out, particularly after the Left Front assumed office in West Bengal in 1977.  The agrarian reforms and the protection and consolidation of the democratic rights of the working people completely isolated the Naxalites in the state.  The resumption of their activities in early parts of the first decade of the new century started as armed incursions from Jharkhand initially and later on from Orissa. The thickly forested jungles on the borders of these states provided the natural cover, as well as, the strategic base that the ‘Maoists’ needed to move on to West Bengal. 

The Left had from the very beginning, maintained that the ‘Maoist’ movement cannot be treated merely as a challenge to law and order.  Their involvement in these forest fringe areas was not because of their compassion for the poor and the tribals who suffered from locational disadvantage and consequent comparative lack of development.  Despite this, the agrarian reforms and other benefits of decentralisation had expanded social sector development.  It is because of this, the Left had always been politically strong in these areas.  Premised on these experiences, the Left, therefore, argued for facing the challenge of ‘Maoist’ violence through a three pronged response; first, on the question of targeted socio-economic development, secondly on the question of political-ideological offensive to isolate them from the people- and finally, based on these two, to initiate administrative actions of the security forces that would finally be successful in containing the violence.

As opposed to this, the central government had always pitched for all out administrative confrontation.  The home minister, P Chidambaram, the fountainhead of such an exclusively confrontationist approach even mooted the idea of deploying the military and the air force to snuff out the ‘Maoists’. 

However, the maverick TMC supremo was totally opposed to the very idea of taking on the ‘Maoists’.  Because she understood that in order to undermine and weaken the Left in these areas which have traditionally been the bastion of the Left, the ‘Maoists’ could prove to be her hatchet men.  The ‘Maoists’ – the opportunists that they are – found these to be extremely convenient.  Their complete ideological bankruptcy and penchant for military strategy created conditions for the coming together of these two forces. West Bengal’s recent history – from the ‘Maoists’ involvement in the Nandigram agitation and the present West Bengal chief minister’s open dalliance with the ‘Maoists’ in Lalgarh - the alliance was eventually made official.  The media savvy ‘Maoist’ Polit Bureau member Kishanji announced from behind his masked face that the ‘Maoists’ would love to see the TMC supremo as the next chief minister of West Bengal in an interview to Ananda Bazar Patrika before elections. 

This was music to her ears.  This made her to claim that there are no ‘Maoists’ in West Bengal.  And, she was not even acknowledging the killings of hundreds of CPI(M) and Left activists and leaders who were being snuffed out by these ‘Maoist’ marauders.  And, she did everything possible to politically delegitimise the operation of the state and central joint security forces to protect the life and livelihood of innocent citizens who were at the receiving end of the mindless ‘Maoist’ violence. 

The complicity was so complete that while the ‘Maoists’ had hijacked a train, the Rajdhani Express, the Railways under her charge did not even mention the ‘Maoist’ involvement in the complaint that the department filed.  And, finally, came the shocking allegation in the wake of the Gyaneshwari tragedy. Not only did she claim that these gruesome deaths of the Ganeshwari passengers were not the result of ‘Maoist’ depredation but actually they have been done by the CPI(M) and the Left to discredit the Railway Ministry! The intellectuals – the `civil society’ her close band of trumpeters for `political change’ in fact went a step further.  They actually called a press conference on the eve of a crucial municipal election in Kolkata and directly charged the CPI(M) of engineering the tragedy.  These intellectuals – of whom some are now even part of the cabinet of the present West Bengal government – justified their position by claiming that ‘Maoists’ did not explicitly take the responsibility for the incident. 

Now that the TMC supremo has assumed the chief minister’s office, she has to reconcile with the harsh cold reality. She thought that the zeal with which the ‘Maoists’ had worked overtime to see her in the office that she holds today would continue to do so even after the objective has been secured.  But, as we know, the ‘Maoists’ show extreme opportunism in siding with this or that bourgeois political party for carrying on with violent methods to physically eliminate all political opposition.  The ‘Maoists’ clearly had an agenda that they would use the TMC to ensure the physical elimination of the CPI(M) and the Left  to facilitate their own physical stranglehold over a region which had remained a bastion of the Left.

But, now the chickens have come home to roost.  The latest dramatic turn of events saw the felling of that very ‘Maoist’ leader who once wanted to anoint the TMC supremo as the incumbent chief minister of West Bengal.  This is the real irony.  The operation of the joint security forces which was held back for almost five months had to be ultimately allowed since the ‘Maoists’ were not sparing the TMC functionaries once they had been able to regroup with the relief that the new government had provided.  The process of the so-called negotiations which was bound to fail because of the pan Indian nature of the ‘Maoist’ activity also further emboldened them. 

It is in this background that the gun battle ensured in the forests of Burisole which has by now become a household name – as the site which marked the elimination of Kishanji.  In a way, this was inevitable.  Far from being a revolutionary movement, which the ‘Maoists’ claim to lead, apparently he found himself thoroughly isolated and encircled – that is what the security forces had claimed. 

But strangely, neither the chief minister nor any of her top ranking officials from the police or the general administration had come out with any authentic version over the sequence of events which led to the elimination of Kishanji immediately after the announcement of the incident. More than anybody else, it is their supporters – particularly those sections of liberal persuasion – some of them even sympathetic to the ‘Maoist’ cause have come out quite sharply against the same government and the security forces for having done what they did. 

In doing this, they seem to have taken a leaf out of chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s book of records. She did exactly this in questioning the elimination of Azad – the spokesman of the ‘Maoists’. She had actually demanded enquiry into Azad’s `murder’ not only outside but also in the parliament itself. In fact, directed by the court, an inquiry is still going on about this incident.

Now that Kishanji has been eliminated, the same charges are being leveled.  It is being alleged that the security forces had him in custody and this amounts to a `cold blooded murder of a prisoner in custody’.  It is now for the state government to clarify the real course of development transparently.  Rule of law would require that of her government.

However, in a public meeting recently, the chief minister has claimed that the security forces had encircled Kishanji for three continuous days.  The forces had also made an announcement over a public address system that he would be allowed a safe way out . But according to her, he did not respond positively and fired back.  This is what led to the armed confrontation which saw her one time `well wisher’ dead.

The convergence of purpose which brought the TMC and the ‘Maoists’ together to eliminate the Left – does no longer exist.  The functional alliance appears to have come unstuck.  And, therefore, this belated admission over Gyneshwari Express tragedy and this renewed restoration of the joint security forces’ operation leading to the elimination of Kishanji. 

But the tenuous exercise to try and balance the relationship between these two sinister forces had continued for the last few months since the new government in West Bengal had assumed office, now seems to be finally over.  The group of interlocutors who had been officially appointed by the state government to carry out the discussions with the ‘Maoists’ have finally thrown up their hands. And, in the statement issued recently expressing their inability to carry on the process, they have squarely blamed the state government for having killed Kishanji `in cold blood’.

The course of the sinister alliance has really come to complete its vicious circle.  Sadly, the TMC and some of their grassroot level activists who are also poor and vulnerable have also now come to suffer from the mindless violence of the ‘Maoists’. 

But the chief minister is not prepared to accept the reality. While she has lambasted the ‘Maoists’ and their liberal sympathisers who don the mantle of  the human rights organisations for failing to condemn the death and killings of hapless victims of the mindless ‘Maoist’ violence – even going to the extent of pointing out that a large number of activists of the Left had  suffered – she failed to concede that she herself had shown similar proclivities.

To compound her almost criminal negligence in shielding the ‘Maoists’ – she is actually still maintaining that the CPI(M) and the ‘Maoists’ are in league.  This is not withstanding the fact that after the Lok Sabha elections alone almost 250 CPI(M) activists and leaders mostly poor and tribals laid down their lives in the course of taking on the political and ideological challenge of the ‘Maoists’.  But still there is time. The  threat that ‘Maoist’ violence poses to the life and livelihood of the most downtrodden sections of the society in the remotest jungles of West Bengal can only be repulsed by the joining of forces. The unity of all political parties who believe in the rule of law and securing life of the people must act together to isolate the ‘Maoists’.  It is the only enduring way to establish peace.   And, elimination of a single individual – however important he may be – cannot mark the end to the mindless violence which the ‘Maoists’ had been perpetrating.  The restoration of legitimate political activities of all political forces in the affected areas of jangal mahal area is the only rational course to achieve that objective.

People’s Democracy, December 04, 2011 

Kishanji Betrayed By Inner Circle

Caesar Mandal, TNN | Nov 26, 2011, 06.04AM IST

WEST MIDNAPORE: Why did Kishanji risk coming out of hiding when he knew that security forces were on the offensive in Bengal?

It appears that the Maoist politburo member was alarmed by the cracks in the ranks. The state rebel leadership had varying perceptions about the new government and of their own tactics. There was a growing disillusionment among second generation Maoist leaders. Besides, the federal functioning of the rebel organisation may have forced Kishanji's hand.

He had no choice but to get drawn into the quagmire of Jangalmahal. It was the last decision he ever took.

There was a growing lack of coordination between Bikash - known to be one of the closest to Kishanji - and Akash, who was not in the best of terms with the politburo member. Sashadhar Mahato's widow Suchitra, who got close to Kishanji after Sashadhar's death, also had her differences with Akash. The bitterness and confusion trickled down to the Maoist-led mass organisations and also their fringe connects in Kolkata. This was quite apparent from the text and tenor of the press releases issued from time to time.

Those following the developments can easily distinguish between the positive attitude of Akash towards the "peace process", and the combative ones issued by Baha Tudu. Though Akash repeatedly claimed that his view was approved by the CPI(Maoist) central committee, the zonal commanders and frontal leaders were eager to hear from Kishanji. In fact, Kishanji's silence to Mamata's peace offer was quite perplexing. If the Maoists had agreed to talks, why wasn't the media savvy Kishanji talking?

That's not all. The Maoist camp was divided on organisational tactics as well. For instance, senior CPI(Maoist) state committee members were not unanimous on the decision to kill intelligence branch inspector Partha Biswas and NGO activist Samarjit Basu, who were abducted from a Jangalmahal village.

A series of encounter killings and arrests had shaken up the Maoist ranks. Kishanji knew it would take his direct intervention. The cracks in the state leadership were already impeding the regrouping of Maoists in Bengal and their political expansion.

According to Maoist sources, Kishanji entered West Midnapore a fortnight ago to iron out the differences. He met front ranking Maoists in Bengal and was preparing to meet zonal commanders, such as Jayanta and Ranjan Munda, to explain to them the party strategy.

But little did Kishanji realise that the cellphone he once used to send across messages to the PLGA or his comrades to dodge police could also be used against him by members of his inner circle. This apprehension was growing within the Maoist ranks following Sasadhar Mahato's death in a police encounter. Leading Maoists had started to suspect moles within the ranks, who might be passing on vital information to security forces.

The fact that Maoists are not invincible is apparent from the series of surrenders, starting with Sobha Mandi and more recently the feared Jagori Baske. Even if they were removed from Maoist squads years ago, the police have already established contacts with some of the men within the squads. The renegades, who are yet to surrender, have been feeding police with specific information about Kishanji like they did when Sasadhar Mahato was in hiding. They have also ratted on Kishanji's core team and their way of functioning - vital clues to anyone trying to second guess his moves.

A section of the Maoists, however, has started suspecting the peace process itself. They argue that the Centre and state governments have earlier used this tactic to track high-profile Maoist leaders. They took lesson from Andhra Pradesh, where politburo member Azad was killed in an encounter while returning from peace negotiations with the Centre.

Kishanji's death also came at a time when the state government was in peace talks. Chief minister Mamata Banerjee has been earnest about bringing about peace in Jangalmahal and has repeatedly urged Maoists to surrender. She even refused to disband the state-appointed band of mediators when they offered to resign because of the continuing security operations.

But how could the security forces track Kishanji when he was nowhere in the peace initiative? Organisers close to the Maoists have started suspecting Akash. They maintain that the state appointed interlocutors got in touch with Akash who gave his views after consultations with Kishanji. This might have helped security forces track Kishanji's location. The forces also started cultivating moles within the Maoist squads and the local sources to zero in on the fugitive. The renegades in police contact might have then given additional inputs about Kishanji's defence and suggested ways to break the layers of his security.

Riddled body leaves unsolved mysteries

Caesar Mandal, TNN | Nov 26, 2011, 06.03AM IST

JHARGRAM: Was Maoist politburo member Kishanji moving alone in the Jhargram forests when he was shot dead on Thursday? Where did his comrade Suchitra Mahato disappear after sustaining injuries? Where were his bodyguards when he was being hounded by CoBRA jawans? And finally why did Kishanji emerge from hiding at a time when the joint forces were in assault mode? These questions remain unanswered a day after his death.

Officers who led the operation said they had accurate information that a group of at least 15 heavily armed rebels, including Kishanji and Suchitra, had taken refuge in Burishole forest late on Wednesday after security forces surrounded them in Kushboni forest of Binpur block of West Midnapore, 9km from Jhargram town.

"Initially, they camped at Nalboni, a village in Kushboni. When the forces reached the village, they moved west, crossed Kongsaboti irrigation canal and took refuge in Burishole," said a senior CRPF officer on Thursday night.

The forces were hot on their trail and soon cordoned off the entire forest. Slowly, they pushed the rebels south west, where the forest ends at Burishole village. "We managed to trap them and they had no way to go. Kishanji hid behind this four-foot high anthill," said a CRPF commandant on Friday morning, pointing the blood-soaked spot where Kishanji's bullet riddled body was found.

It is hardly 50 meters from the end of forest where the village starts. Blood smeared soil, cartridge casings, splinters of mortar shells and bullets embedded in the anthill indicate the severity of the encounter.

The question is why was Kishanji the only one killed when he always travelled with armed bodyguards? A police officer said three more rebels were possibly killed and some more injured but there was no trace of them. Even sniffer dogs were of no help.

Police suspect Suchitra fled through the fields adjoining Burishole village, but no villager confirms it. "An hour before sundown we heard heavy firing in the forest close to the village playground. Police surrounded the entire village. We did not see anyone escape. Two village youths who went to the field were arrested," said Laksmi Mahato, a local.

Police, however, stuck to their theory, saying they recovered a laides' handbag with Sashadhar's picture and news clippings. "We suspect it is Suchitra's bag. She might have left it while escaping," said Jhargram SDPO Sumit Kumar.

If this is true, were Kishanji and Suchitra alone in the forest? Where did the others go?

On Wednesday, police said they had broken the first cordon of Kishanji's four-ring security in Kushboni jungle. How did he become alone the very next day? There is no physical evidence of any of his bodyguards putting up a last stand to save him. How could they disappear so quickly despite being surrounded?

Of late Kishanji was not seeing eye to eye with Akash, sources say. All the key Maoist leaders in Jangalmahal were aware of his arrival and movements. Sources feel that vital information about Kishanji's movement might have been leaked by some insiders who have been maintaining tacit contact with police.

The police raid on Wednesday might have forced him to move alone or only with his trusted comrade Suchitra. He might have been wary of his own men. Getting separated from his security platoon perhaps made it easy for the forces to hunt him down.

Most interestingly, a day after the encounter, police recovered some mattresses close to the spot where Kishanji died. "It was an open space. We fail to understand why he would stay at such place, even for brief period," wondered a villager.

Maoist bid for Myanmar haven fails

Nirmalya Banerjee, TNN | Nov 19, 2011, 02.58AM IST

KOLKATA: A plan by CPI(Maoist) to use its connections with Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) of Manipur to get sanctuary in Myanmar has come to naught because of reservations of the rebel leaders from the northeast, according to an Imphal-based defence source. PLA activists in Manipur have revealed this to security forces, he says.

According to the source, CPI(Maoist) leaders had requested PLA to arrange this shelter in the middle of the current year, soon after the Maoists started feeling the heat of stepped-up pressure of joint operations against Maoists in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand as well as West Bengal.

Leaders of National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Khaplang), the "guardians" of assorted rebel groups from northeast India sheltered in Myanmar, did not favour this idea, security forces have learnt.

NSCN (K) leaders have reasoned that the presence of Maoists in Myanmar would be revealed in no time because the features of CPI(Maoist) members would not match with that of members of northeastern rebel groups taking shelter there.

They fear that if the Indian authorities learn of the presence of Maoists in hideouts of northeastern rebels in Myanmar, they would put pressure on the authorities in Myanmar to launch an offensive against camps of NSCN(K) and other northeastern rebels there. Otherwise, the presence of NSCN(K) camps in Myanmar is not a big threat as NSCN(K) has signed a ceasefire agreement with the Centre.

A large NSCN(K) camp is located at Taga in Myanmar where members of a number of other rebel groups from the northeast, like United Liberation Front of Asom and PLA, have also taken shelter. NSCN(K) chairman S S Khaplang, being a Myanmarese Naga himself, wields more influence there than leaders of other rebel groups.

It may be recalled that two PLA leaders arrested in Delhi in October this year revealed to the police that CPI(Maoist) leaders were wanted to joint training camps with PLA in Myanmar. Earlier, in October 2008, leaders of CPI(Maoist) and of Revolutionary eoples Front, political wing of PLA, had signed an understanding for mutual co-operation and issued a joint declaration.

Militant groups of the northeast enjoy the advantage of crossing the international border easily and take shelter in foreign soil when they find the pressure of operations by security forces too much. Maoists operating in places far from any international border find it difficult to secure such sanctuaries. Links with rebel groups of the northeast would help Maoists to secure sanctuaries as well as arms and ammunition, say sources.

Hint of tribal alienation?

Saugata Roy, TNN | Nov 18, 2011, 07.00AM IST

KOLKATA: Those who had been to Jagori Baske's home in Purulia's Bagdubi village would be aware of the pitiable background of this shy adivasi girl who later turned into a brutal Maoist squad leader. A mud house behind a pond in this forest hamlet, no land to fall back upon and no cattle to rear. Jagori lived with her mother in extreme poverty, surviving on a meagre income from babui grass.

Jagori had the desperation and zeal to break out of the penury - the Maoists gifted her a dream that shattered midway.

What does her surrender signify? Are the Maoists losing their foothold in Jangalmahal? And if so, is the Trinamool Congress gaining new ground when the CPM organisers are on their heels? The series of developments that led to the dramatic surrender displays a lack of trust towards the Maoists. But this is not all. It has created a void among the adivasis that is more significant than the surrender. The innocent adivasis, who largely supported the 'bon parti' against the CPM's domination, are at a loss.

Those in power have failed to understand the socio-cultural fabric of the adivasi community which is as important as the under-development that plagues the region. It's true that Maoists have smashed the adivasi patriarchy that was the last word in the community. But the mainstream political parties - CPM and of late Trinamool - dominated by the Sarkars, Pandeys, Roys and Adhikarys have never spared a thought to engage the adivasi samaj that could work wonders in bringing peace to the area.

Jagori's surrender is not an isolated case, as Maoists would like to showcase it. Shobha Mandi, another tribal Maoist squad leader, was the first to surrender. Gurucharan Kisku alias Marshall was among the men dumped by Maoists, and later Laxmikanta Baske from Katasimul village joined the Trinamool-backed platform.

They are all adivasis - a major contingent of the Jangalmahal population that played a key role in the Lalgarh uprising in 2007. It sent ripples in the entire adivasi samaj. Sensing the mood, the Maoists kept tribals Lalmohan Tudu (killed) and Sukhshanti Baske (now in custody) in the first panel of the People's Committee Against Police Atrocities. Chhatradhar Mahato (a non-tribal) was the spokesperson. A little after the uprising, the Maoists took over completely and broke the writ of the adivasi society.

This seems to have triggered the alienation. The Maoist diktat also began to dominate personal relations within the guerrillas. It became evident when the party didn't allow Jagori to marry her mentor Gurucharan Kisku alias Marshall and instead made her tie the wedlock with Rajaram Soren. Marshall felt out with the Maoist leadership and was shown the door, so was Jagori. It did not go down well among the adivasis.

"I won't go into the internal affairs of the Maoists. But it's a fact that Maoists are losing public support among the adivasis. But there is no one to address their concerns. We are trying in our own little way," said CPI(M-L) leader Santosh Rana.

Jagori's surrender may prompt the Maoists to regroup themselves among the adivasis who are not taking them in right earnest. They might try to consolidate their position among the non-tribal Mahato community, which might further aggravate the social tension.

The Mamata Banerjee government cannot make much headway in the adivasi belt with its band of bureaucrats. The BPL rice that was promised to them has been stopped for over a week, soon after the government ordered a three-tier committee comprising BDOs, SDOs and district magistrate to revamp the delivery system.

Jagori's surrender: The backroom story

Caesar Mandal, TNN | Nov 19, 2011, 02.59AM IST

KOLKATA: Jagori Baske's dramatic surrender before chief minister Mamata Banerjee on Thursday has only added to the mystery that has surrounded the dreaded Maoist for most of her life.

When exactly did she surrender? Was it before the last assembly polls? Did Kolkata Police play a crucial role? How were Jagori and her husband, Maoist comrade Rajaram Soren, clad in crisp battle fatigues if they were on the run for months? And what is the role of renegade Maoist Gurucharan Kisku alias Marshall, Jagori's mentor?

These questions had the administrative circles abuzz all of Friday.

TOI has pieced together the chain of events that led to the most sensational surrender of a Maoist leader in Bengal.

It all started more than an year ago - July 2010, when the Left Front government announced its rehab offer for Maoists. For officers on the field, the instruction was clear - the government had heeded to their request for a surrender package and they had to show results. But getting a Maoist top gun to surrender was easier said than done.

Marshall was the first choice. A Dalma squad leader and one of the first Maoist recruits, he was named in the 2003 ambush of seven policemen in Bandwan but had been dumped by the rebels in 2007 for his reported "ideological deviation".

He was itching to get back at his former comrades after being shown the door. He first came in contact with the Jharkhand government-sponsored anti-Maoist forum and later with an IPS officer in West Midnapore (this officer is now with Kolkata Police).

Marshall was ready to work for police - and he did - but he was surprisingly reluctant to accept the surrender proposal.

Wily that he is, Marshall sensed that his steadfast refusal may trigger a bitter conflict with his police "handlers". Police, too, realised that they were the only ones protecting him from his former comrades, who were baying for his blood. Marshall then played his trump card. He assured his handlers of a prized catch - Jagori, the feared guerrilla he had groomed.

Jagori had been fiercely loyal to Marshall ever since she left her home in Purulia's Bakdoba village as a 16-year-old. Even in the Maoist fold, she had to pay a price for her devotion to her mentor even after he was expelled. Despite her "brilliance" in guerrilla tactics, her party didn't hesitate to throw her out for her continued relation with Marshall.

Deserted by her party and hounded by police, Jagori was in dire straits with her month-old infant when Marshall once again surfaced in her life offering help.

"Jagori never indulged in anti-party activities, ever, but she could never completely alienate herself from Marshall. It was a tough dilemma. We were contemplating taking her back in 2009," a senior Maoist leader had told TOI some time ago. This leader has been "missing" for the past year but if sources are to be believed, he is recuperating from a critical ailment in a police "safe house."

This isn't new to Bengal. It's said another elderly Maoist ideologue was cared for in a police safe house until he died of a chronic ailment.

Marshall, on his part, was well aware of the extent to which he could cash in on the Jagori bait. He held on to her in such a manner that it led to a delicate and protracted "negotiation" which continued for more than 11 months. Whether Jagori gave herself up to police or whether Marshall tipped police of her movements may always remain a mystery.

Incidentally, Jagori's comrade-in-arms Shova Mandi was intercepted by police in March 2010 on National Highway-6. She was then headed for Midnapore for treatment on a motorcycle with her husband Kamal Mahato. Mandi officially "surrendered" in August 2010.

Sources said that after initial counseling, Jagori reportedly stayed in a safe house on the outskirts of Kolkata, ringed by a police camp. She might have been debriefed by some Kolkata Police officers before being handed to the custody of the IB, say sources.

Maoists are usually very prompt in alerting the media should any of their cadres goes missing for a certain period. In Shova's case the rebels had issued one such statement long before her surrender. But in Jagori's case, there was no such statement. The dreaded rebel had been expelled and given up for good by her comrades.

Jagori's surrender may be the most dramatic yet, but it won't be the last. It wouldn't be surprising if in the next few days another Maoist couple - both of them feared squad members - also surrender. Negotiations are on to pull them in, say sources.

November 29, 2011

West Bengal: Re-inventing Folly

By Fakir Mohan Pradhan
Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management
July 4, 2011

Parties in Opposition seeking election have repeatedly, in the past, entered into usually covert deals with insurgent groups in various theatres of conflict in India, and events in West Bengal appear to have followed this opportunistic line. The Trinamool Congress (TMC) which has come to power with a huge majority in the elections of April-May 2011, had engaged in a strident and disruptive campaign, sustained over more than two years, in close coordination with the Communist Party of India – Maoist (CPI-Maoist) and its various front organizations, prominently including the People’s Committee against Police Atrocities (PCPA). With the installation of Mamata Bannerjee’s TMC in Writer’s Building, it is now evidently payoff time for the Maoists.

In her first Press Conference as Chief Minister on May 21, 2011, when asked about withdrawal of Central Para Military Forces (CPMFs) from the Jungle Mahal area of the State, Banerjee replied, “We will first cross check things. But I must tell you that we will never backtrack from our commitment.’’ In the run-up to the Assembly polls, Mamata had been vociferously demanding withdrawal of CPMFs deployed in anti-Maoist operations in Jungle Mahal (the Maoist-affected area comprising West Midnapore, Bankura and Purulia). Indeed, she had flatly denied the presence of the Maoists in the area, claiming, “there are no Maoists in Jungle Mahal, there are only Marxists who are ‘Marxists in the day and Maoists at night.’” Her Lalgarh rally on August 9, 2010, had visibly demonstrated the TMC’s proximity to the PCPA and the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist).

After the TMC’s landslide victory, things have started to unfold in a predictable way as far as anti-Maoist operations are concerned. There has been an evident ‘slow down’’ of the Security Forces’ (SFs) offensive against Maoists in the State since the election results were declared on May 13, 2011. On condition of anonymity, an unnamed senior officer of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) disclosed that intelligence inputs provided by the State Police had petered out after the change of Government and that, "for the past month, there has not been any major raid against Maoists as the local Police did not accompany the Central Force for one reason or the other." Every platoon of CPMFs is required to be accompanied by at least eight local Police personnel to familiarize them with the areas.

The Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has also expressed concern that the joint forces' operation in West Bengal has “slowed down”, and that CPMFs in Jungle Mahal have been "sitting idle" since Bannerjee’s installation as CM. "Right now the Central Forces are going on patrols for area familiarization," another unnamed official stated. Thirty-five companies of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), six companies of Nagaland Police and 51 companies of the State Police have been deployed in the Jungle Mahal region.  Sources indicate that top Police officers in Bengal fear that if they initiate operations against the Maoists, it could anger Mamata Banerjee. Kolkata Police's Special Task Force (STF) is also said to have been asked to go slow against Maoists and take prior approval before going for any action.

The fatalities data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal give a clear demonstration of the trends.

Fatalities in Left-wing Extremist Violence in West Bengal: 2009-2011
Years           Civilian           SF personnel  Maoist insurgents      Total
2009             134                           15                 9                             158
2010              328                          36              61                             425
2011*               33                            1                 4                             38
* Data till July 3, 2011 Source: South Asia Terrorism Portal

Monthly Fatalities in Left-wing Extremist Violence in West Bengal in 2011
                  Civilian     SFs      Insurgents      Total
January          18          0              1                    19
February         7            0            0                     7
March             2             1             3                     6
April                4             0            0                     4
May                 1             0            0                     1
June                 1             0            0                    1
July*                 0            0            0                   0
Total               33             1           4                   38
* Data till July 3, 2011 Source: South Asia Terrorism Portal

There has been just one fatality in the State since Banerjee took over, and total fatalities this year are down to 38, as against the two years of violent mobilization preceding, which saw 425 killed in 2010 and 158 in 2009.

Though the Government has not given any formal order to the SFs regarding anti-Maoist operation, the Police leadership is taking its cue from certain obvious decisions. West Midnapore District had two Superintendent of Police (SP) ranked officers, but the new Government has reduced this to just one SP rank officer. Similarly, since June 2009, to intensify the anti-Maoist operation and for a better coordination with CPMFs, a Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) ranked officer was assigned to head each Maoist-hit Police Station of the District. Over the past weeks the DSPs, who were on deputation, were called back to their original postings. Anti-Maoist operations have, on all practical accounts, been entirely suspended.

Significantly, though the SFs were facing an uphill task before the polls, the CPMFs had achieved some success, including the killing of Sasadhara Mahato, the prime accused of Salboni landmine attack, on March 10, 2011. The domination of Maoists in the Jungle Mahal area had diminished. One SF source explained, “Earlier there used to be a looming danger of being ambushed. Now we are trying to engage with the villagers and build trust…” Another officer stated, “While a part of it (Jungle Mahal) was cleared by our security forces, the rest had been cleared with the help of the CPI-M [Communist Party of India-Marxist] supporters.”

Confirming the suspension of operations and the implicit ‘deal’ with the Government, the Maoists have also declared a ‘ceasefire’ in West Bengal in order to give Mamata Banerjee “time to fulfil her promises to Jungle Mahal”, including the withdrawal of Joint Forces. Bikram, a CPI-Maoist ‘State committee’ member, issued a statement on June 4, 2011, declaring: “We want her (Mamata) to fulfil all the promises she had made in last year’s Lalgarh rally. We will not place any fresh demands to the Chief Minister for now… We are even ready for talks with the State Government.” The Maoists have also announced that they would not launch any attacks on the SF’s in the State, for the time being. Without specifying how long they planned to continue with the ‘ceasefire’, the statement, however, qualified that the “soft” stance will not be maintained for an indefinite period.

Maoist sources, however, clarified that they “would not stop killing corrupt CPI-M leaders and cadres” because of the cease-fire. A rebel source thus stated, “The cease-fire does not mean that we will not wipe out the CPM’s corrupt leaders and cadres in our stronghold. Our operation to drive out the CPM from Jungle Mahal will continue. CPM leaders, including Sushanta Ghosh, Dipak Sarkar, Anuj Pandey and Dahareshwar Sen, will have to face punishment. We want Mamata to start criminal cases against them.”

Earlier, on May 18, 2011, the Maoist-backed PCPA had also expressed its willingness to enter into a dialogue process with the Banerjee Government. However, PCPA chief Manoj Mahato was arrested on July 1 on the charge of abduction of Jiten Mahato, a Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) leader, who had been abducted in September 2009.

However, while the Maoists are clearly seeking their pound of flesh from the Government for the support extended to the TMC in the extended run-up to the polls, signs of a souring of relations are already visible. Maoist-backed PCPA cadres are threatening TMC workers, demanding that they quit the party and join PCPA, in a bid to exert pressure on the Mamata Banerjee-led Government to expedite the release of ‘political prisoners’ (Maoist cadres and leaders), and push for withdrawal of Central Forces from Jungle Mahal. Local TMC activists claimed they had been threatened in at least 20 villages of Jhargram, Salboni, Sankrail and Kotwali areas of West Midnapore: “Maoist armed squad leader Badal Mahato travels with his guerrillas at night and holds meetings. He tells villagers about Mamata Banerjee’s promises. He says if the promises are not kept, they will wipe out TMC from Jungle Mahal,” an unnamed TMC activist claimed. A Dherua-based TMC leader disclosed that, on June 2, 2011, a local PCPA leader had visited him at night and asked him to quit TMC and join the PCPA: “He [the local PCPA leader] told me that they had helped us to defeat the CPM. Now that CPM has lost, we will not allow any other political party to function in the area. He also told me that whatever must be done will be done through the PCPA… After the Assembly poll results, local PCPA leaders changed their attitude. They said they fought the CPM because it was the ruling party. Because the situation has changed and TMC shares power both in Bengal and at the Centre, they now say their fight is against us. If you want to live, then quit TMC, one of them told me.” District TMC Chairperson Mrigen Maity conceded: “We have received reports from our workers in Jhargram, Salboni, Sankrail and Kotwali areas that they are being threatened by Maoists and the PCPA. We will soon submit a report to the State TMC leadership.”

These allegations have, however, been denied by PCPA leader Manoj Mahato, who claimed that it was the villagers in Jungle Mahal who were demanding that TMC deliver on its promises: “PCPA leaders are not threatening TMC workers… Now that TMC has been voted to power, it is quite natural that villagers will ask party workers about the promises.”

With the SFs sitting idle, moreover, there is mounting evidence that the Maoists have started regrouping and extending recruitment. CRPF Inspector General T. B. Rao notes, “Top Maoist leaders Akash and Bikash are now moving around in Garbeta." Maoist insiders hinted that they were trying to expand their political activities for further recruitment and to recover the initial setbacks they had suffered during the SF operation in the pre-election phase. There is no immediate intent to intensify ‘military operations’, and the Maoist focus will currently remain on recruitment and reorganization.

Meanwhile, Banerjee claims that, under her regime, the Maoists would be ‘wiped out’ from the State as she would ‘bring development’ to the people: “We will bring development in the State and end Naxalism,” she declared on May 14, 2011. During an interactive session with industrialists aimed to woo investors to Jungle Mahal, on May 18, she added, “There is a law and order problem [in Jungle Mahal] but the people there are good. Do not be scared and try to give it a shot.”

Such delusional ignorance of the clear facts of history, of the long trajectory of Maoist operations across the country, and of Maoist ideology, strategy and tactics, can only bring disaster to the West Bengal. Bannerjee may believe that she is starting out anew, but her fantasies of ‘developing’ her way out of the Maoist challenge have a long and sorry chain of precedents. Several State Governments in the past have, moreover, entered into similar deals with the devil, and it is the SFs and the people who have had to pay the price in blood, for political opportunism and folly.


June 17, 2011

Maoists reorganising in Bengal

Caesar Mandal, TNN
Jun 17, 2011, 06.44pm IST

KOLKATA: Maoist once again in a reorganisation bid in West Bengal following the formation of new government. Weeks ago, Maoist leader Bikash and Bikram on behalf of outfit's west Bengal state committee announced that the outfit is ready for talks with Mamata Banerjee led Bengal government if the state create a conducive atmosphere for talks.

Sources said, responding the Maoist feeler, state government has already slowed down the pace of anti-Maoist operation in Jangalmahal for past few weeks. Even in the formation of policing the state has brought some visible change which indicate that government is want to send a positive message to the red rebels.

Earlier in West Midnapore district, where Lalgarh is situated on of the most Maoist hit district in Bengal had two SP ranked officers to curb down Maoist 'menace'. But the new government has changed it and now only one SP rank officer is managing the entire district. Similarly since June 2009, to intensify the Maoist operation and for a better coordination with central forces a deputy Superintendent ranked officer was assigned to head each Maoist hit police stations of the district. In past few weeks DSP's who were on deputation were called back to their original posting.

" Practically anti-Maoist operation has been suspended,' said a police officer. CRPF officers posted in the trouble zone have also corroborated the fact.

Taking advantage of the situation, several senior Maoist leaders reportedly came down to the forested plains of Lalgarh and adjoining area. " Even once again, one of their central committee member is active in an around Jhargram area along with ther state leadership like Akash and Bikash,' said an intelligence officer who pointed out the Thursday incident in Jahrgram. On Thursday afternoon, a mob of Peoples Committee Against Police Atrocities(PCPA) beleived to be the mass outfit of the Maoists ransacked houses of five CPM leaders at Sapdhara and Aguiboni village of Jhargram. " It is significant because since police operation was started, PCPA never tried to do such daring attack in broad day light. Such happened when the entire area was under Maoist seize for eight months since november 2008," said an intelligence officer, who confirmed that some armed Maoist cadres had led the mob on Thursday.

Maoist insiders however hinted that they are now trying to expand their political activities for further recruitment and to recover the initial set back during recent police operation. Maoist are not in a mood to intensify their military operation rather they are trying to reorganise.

January 06, 2011

Trinamul-Maoist Nexus Endangers National Security

THROUGH these columns, we had been repeatedly exposing the diabolic nexus between the Trinamul Congress and the Maoists in West Bengal. If any reconfirmation was ever necessary, it has now come in a resounding manner through voluntary declarations by leaders of both the Trinamul and the Maoists that have appeared in the media.
Trinamul Congress MP from the Jadavpur Lok Sabha constituency, Shri Kabir Suman, has recently launched his autobiographical narrative named `Nishner nam Taposhi Malik’ (the name of the flag is Taposhi Malik). The book, significantly, has been dedicated to Kishenji, the Polit Bureau member of CPI(Maoist) operating in West Bengal. In the book, Mr Suman has given an eye witness account of a meeting held in Trinamul Congress headquarters in Kolkata attended by two individuals – Raja Sarkhel and Prasun Chattopadhyaya – who are at present in judicial custody booked under certain provisions of the UAPA for their links with the Maoists. The concerned meeting, Shri Suman informs, was also attended by Ms Mamata Banerjee and Shri Sougata Roy who are currently ministers of the UPA government. The meeting discussed the possibilities of intervention in Nandigram in which implicitly the Maoists would also be involved.

The Maoists have earlier given detailed accounts of their involvement in Nandigram with the Trinamul Congress through public statements which have never been contradicted. The media reported on January 8, 2009 the following: “To wipe out CPI(M) from West Bengal, we must work together with all parties of the ruling class like, Trinamool Congress, Congress, BJP etc. The CPI(Maoist) document, titled `Some important problems and its solutions’ was circulated to the members after the incidents of Shalboni and Lalgarh. We must get all ruling parties associated as long they desire to be. We call CPI(M) as a Social Fascist organisation. Relations with Trinamool Congress and railway minister Mamata Banerjee must be strengthened.”

Such reports appeared periodically in various sections of the media all through the year. More exposures came in 2010. The Bengali daily, Aaj Kal, reported under the heading “Maoist leader detained from TMC leaders car” on November 10, 2010, the following: “Maoist leader Kanchan Deb Singh was arrested from Trinamool block president Nepal Singh’s car in Shalbani. Police stopped the car for checking and recognised Kanchan inside the car. Nepal Singh as well as Kanchan was taken to the police station though the block president was released within no time. Kanchan was associated with the PSBJC arms training in 2008. He was charged with various landmine blasts, looting of police van etc.”

The Delhi edition of The Hindustan Times has reported on January 5, 2011 a media statement : “purportedly signed by CPI(Maoist) West Bengal state committee member Vikram said: `We want our movement-oriented alliance with Mamata Banerjee to flourish…”. Further: “The declaration said both Maoists and TMC were silent on their alliance because of political compulsions, but they are coming out in the open as there is nothing more to hide. `We fought together during the struggles in Singur, Nandigram….”

It is now, clearly, beyond doubt that the Trinamul Congress had provided and continues to provide both the political cover and all assistance for the Maoists to penetrate into West Bengal in order to be used to mount terror attacks against the CPI(M) cadre and the common people aiming at extracting electoral benefit in the forthcoming elections.

We had drawn attention earlier to an irreconcilable contradiction within the UPA. On the one hand, the prime minister describes the Maoists as “posing the single gravest threat to India’s internal security”. On the other, in the union cabinet led by this very prime minister, there are members of the Trinamul Congress who are collaborating with the Maoists in order to achieve electoral gains at the expense of jeopardising India’s internal security.

Can this be allowed? Can such crass political opportunism (to retain a majority for the government) that endangers our country’s unity and integrity be permissible? Further, can such diabolic and cynical politics, for the sake of electoral gains that destroys democracy, peace and development so crucially required for creating better livelihood conditions for our people be tolerated?

Such politics, for the sake of not only Bengal and its people but for the sake of India and its people, needs to be defeated if the struggle for building a better India has to be carried forward.



January 5, 2011

January 04, 2011



FRONTLINE, JAN 01-14, 2011

The Maoists strike again, this time in Purulia, killing seven Forward Bloc members on a single night.

A paramilitary soldier stands guard beside the bodies of four residents of Bagbandi village in Purulia district who were abducted from their homes and killed by the Maoists in a nearby forest on the night of December 16.

THE cold-blooded killing of seven All India Forward Bloc (AIFB) members, including a woman and a 75-year-old man, in West Bengal's Purulia district by extremists belonging to the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist) betrays a sense of desperation in the organisation as it faces the heat from not only the State police and Central forces but also sections of the local population. On the night of December 16, four teams of militants raided four villages in the district's Jalda-I block near Ayodhya Hill, where joint security forces operations were under way. They dragged the seven victims out of their houses and gunned them down.

The first to get killed was Tapan Singh Sardar of Gutilowa village. Armed extremists entered the house of his brother Chandicharan Singh Sardar, president of the village panchayat samiti. Not finding Chandicharan there, they settled for Tapan, a local AIFB leader, and killed him near the house. The next attack was on Bagbandi village where Kinkar Singh, Gobardhan Singh, 75-year-old Gopeswar Mahato and Chapala Garai, president of the village panchayat, were abducted from their homes, taken to a nearby forest and killed.

The other two victims were Ananta Mahato of Chirutar village and Aju Singh Sardar of Naugarh village. The entire operation took place between 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. The posters the Maoists left behind as a signature threatened the Left parties and the Congress over the joint police operations.

In the past few months, the rebels have suffered severe setbacks at the hands of the joint forces of the Central and State police and, for the first time, faced resistance from sections of the local population. With the ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist) recently regaining control of its stronghold of Lalgarh in Pashchim Medinipur, the Maoists have been on the run from some of their earlier bases and have been forced to try forming new bases.

But, according to police sources, even in these “new” areas where the presence of police and Central forces is not so strong, they are meeting with opposition from the local people.

Inspector General of Police, Western Zone, Zulfiquar Hasan told Frontline: “One thing is absolutely clear, that they have totally alienated the local people with their terror tactics. The seven people they killed were not police informers. They realised there was growing resistance against them and this was an attempt to scare the local people into subjugation. We have seen that whenever operations against them succeed, their killings also increase.”

The Jalda block is a strong base of the AIFB, a constituent of the ruling Left Front in the State. “By targeting AIFB members here, the Maoists are following an old tactic of creating a political vacuum, just as they have been doing in parts of Pashchim Medinipur and Bankura. To gain control of this region, they realise they will have to break the political backbone of the Forward Bloc,” said an intelligence source. A statement issued by the AIFB central committee said that the increasing popularity of the party had eroded the Maoist support base, provoking the recent killings.

The killings took place less than two weeks after the rebels suffered a major setback. On December 3, Sudip Chongdar alias Kanchan, secretary of the CPI (Maoist)'s West Bengal Committee, was arrested in Kolkata along with three associates. Kanchan has been the biggest catch for the police since the arrest in March of Venkatesh Reddy alias Telugu Deepak, the chief of the State Military Commission of the Maoists in West Bengal.

Kanchan, who has been the State secretary since 2008, was one of the main organisers of the Lalgarh movement and was engaged in extending the Maoist influence to places beyond the Jangalmahal (the forested area comprising parts of the three adjoining districts of Pashchim Medinipur, Bankura and Purulia, largely inhabited by tribal people) to other districts in the State.

Although a resident of Garbeta in Pashchim Medinipur, Kanchan often came to Kolkata to liaise with supporters, recruit new members and collect consignments. The police had apparently been tracing his movement through tapped phone conversations and came to know that Kanchan, along with three top aides, would be coming to Kolkata to pick up a consignment of ammunition and gadgets.

Late in the evening of December 3, all four were arrested from the Maidan area of central Kolkata. Along with Kanchan were Anil Ghosh and Barun Sur – both top Maoist operatives and State committee members – and Shankar Mallick alias Buchu, a Maoist linkman. Interrogation of those arrested also enabled the police to secure Kalpana Maity alias Anu, an influential woman Maoist leader.

Sophisticated equipment

Raids on Maoist hideouts in and around Kolkata have led to the seizure of a huge amount of sophisticated electronic equipment along with arms and ammunition. Very high frequency (VHF) and ultra high frequency (UHF) wireless communication sets, remote-operated timers, hi-tech explosive devices and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) found during the raids point to an ominous shift in the operating style and strategy of the Maoists.

According to Rajiv Kumar, chief of the Special Task Force (STF) of the Kolkata Police, the Maoists appear to be trying to develop activated devices that can be used from a distance – a departure from their earlier method of using wired devices that necessitated closer proximity to the target.

“It is clear that the Maoists have studied the operations of the joint forces and identified certain weaknesses in their own mode of operations that allow the security forces to reach them. They are now trying to counter this with the help of technology. If they are successful, it can make things a little difficult for us,” a police source in the region told Frontline.

According to him, such gadgets are easily available in the border areas of India and Nepal and Bangladesh, if not in the markets. “We have documentary evidence of the great importance the Maoists attach to the strengthening of their technology wing. Moreover, they also have a lot of educated sympathisers such as engineering students, even engineering teachers, who help them develop and use new technology,” a police source said.

Link with other militants

Police interrogation of the arrested extremists has also brought to light a nexus between the CPI (Maoist) and the insurgent People's Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak (Prepak) of Manipur. Kanchan apparently revealed that the Maoists' deal with Prepak was sealed six to eight months ago. Under the deal, the two groups will exchange arms and ammunition, and Prepak will train Maoist cadres. Apparently such training has already taken place in the forested areas of Jharkhand.

“The Maoists are also in contact with other organisations in Manipur, but with Prepak these links are not limited to ideological sympathies; they have reached a practical level,” said Rajiv Kumar.

The police have not ruled out the Maoists having links with other militant groups of the north-eastern region, including the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) and the National Socialist Council of Nagalim – Isak-Muivah (NSCN-IM).

Recent developments have also indicated that the Maoists have been spreading their tentacles to regions other than the Jangalmahal. On December 9, they struck in Birbhum district, killing CPI(M) leader Sasti Bawri inside the district party office. This was the second time this year that the region witnessed Maoist killings. Earlier there have been instances of attempted sabotage of public property. The State government has, in fact, sent a proposal to the Centre to declare three more districts – Birbhum, Nadia and Murshidabad – as Maoist affected.

In spite of the Maoists' diminishing influence, however, it would not be correct to assume that the Lalgarh region is returning to normalcy. On December 20, suspected Maoists gunned down Kalipada Mahato, a schoolteacher, in Nayagram, not far from Lalgarh.

“Though incidents of violence have been greatly reduced in the last couple of months, there is still the potential for danger here. Lalgarh holds such a central place in their movement in the State that the Maoists really cannot afford to leave it. There is still the threat of their regrouping and regaining control of the region,” said Manoj Verma, Superintendent of Police, Pashchim Medinipur.

While killings continue to take place in the region, it is unlikely that there will be any Maoist action in the immediate future on the scale of the Silda massacre in February this year when 25 jawans of the Eastern Frontier Rifles were mowed down in their camp. “After the recent setbacks, the mode of operations of the Maoists has changed. They now move in smaller groups and cause isolated incidents in places where security is not strong. Their manpower is greatly reduced and, as of now, their potential for large-scale action has diminished in Pashchim Medinipur,” said Verma.