By SUHRID SANKAR CHATTOPADHYAY
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.
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.