Fear rules in Bengal's Lalgarh

Fear rules in Bengal's Lalgarh

Magsaysay award winner  Mahasweta Devi, known for her soft corner towards the Maoists, admits: “So many deaths (of CRPF personnel) are really upsetting.”

Anima Maity, 19, hailing from Lalgarh, was to marry Suman Khan, a businessman of neighouring Bankura district on May 9. Having completed her 12th standard exams, she was pondering whether she should carry on with her studies after marriage. If the news of the deadly killings of CRPF personnel at Dantewada sent shockwaves across the nation, it also shattered many a dream.

Anima's father, a poor grocer, received a call from the groom's father to inform that he was calling off the marriage. Anima's fault - she belongs to Lalgarh, presently a hotbed of radical left-wing trouble in West Midnapore district of Bengal. Anima's is the latest in a series that Lalgarh has been witnessing in the last one month – a trail of incidents where wedding bells have stopped ringing at the last moment with an increasing number of parents shying away from risking the fate of their sons and daughters.  

In the wake of the dastardly killings in Dantewada, people of Lalgarh and adjoining regions are more worried than they have been over the last few months. There is an increased level of surveillance and raids by the security forces on the one hand and equally surreptitious and deadly warning signals from the fighting Maoist brigade on the other are the reasons. Caught in this vortex, the tribal people are puzzled, famished and forced to lead a very sordid life, not exactly knowing whether there would ever be light at the end of the tunnel.

If the most savage killings of CRPF personnel in India have nearly split the intellectuals with many blaming both the Maoists and the state and Union governments for the current mess, there are others who advise caution and deeper introspection about the root cause of this festering sore.

Years of apathy and neglect coupled with a systematic and organised loot of funds of various pro-poor and developmental schemes of the government have only
contributed to a growing hatred of these innocent tribals towards the leaders and activists of the establishment. “Benefits of the government policies have stopped reaching the tribals for several years and the rebels are only taking advantage of this,” says respected painter Jogen Choudhury. Even Magsaysay winner Mahasweta Devi, known for her soft corner towards the Maoists, admits: “So many deaths (of CRPF personnel) are really upsetting.”

The question that is increasingly being debated is when this rag-tag militant outfit has been consistently increasing its areas of influence, how long would the governments take to effectively reduce the yawning gap between the promise and the reality. And in the case of the Marxist government in West Bengal, as long as it would discreetly allow the likes of Anuj Pandey to spread their tentacles in the land of poverty, it would provide the Maoist insurgents a fertile ground on the platter to expand and entrench their areas of influence. Pandey happens to be the local CPI(M) leader in Lalgarh who built a white-marbled double-storied palace in the heart of poverty by allegedly siphoning off the developmental funds meant for the region.

However, just for the record – had not Lalgarh exploded last year, shocking tales of Pandeys and the politicians like him who are aplenty would not have come to light and the plight of the innocent and exploited tribals would have just remained unknown.

Here is one leaf taken straight out of Lalgarh which demonstrates how, in absence of an effective panchayat machinery, PCAPA(People's Committee Against Police Atrocities), the frontal organization of Maoists in Lalgarh, has been trying hard to win the trust of the locals by undertaking developmental work in Madhupur, a remote village 10 kms from Lalgarh.

“We provide donation to run the show (of development),” a villager told Deccan Herald with a smile. If the smile hid his pangs, one would be mistaken. “PCAPA efforts are far from adequate to meet our demands; but at least, they (PCAPA) are not looting money meant for us which the CPM panchayat members did all these years.”

What about the security forces? “Armed CPM mercenaries have been accompanying the forces into the villages to re-establish their supremacy. Does your home minister P Chidambaram know this?” he shot back, hardening his face. Even as angry tribals have locked out the local panchayat office in protest against the reigning corruption, they have set up close to ten posts around the village to keep 24X7 vigil and ward off CPM cadres from sneaking into their territory. But Union home minister has a different view. “They (Maoists) have declared a war… they don't want the poor to be emancipated or economically free… they are anti-development,” Chidambaram had observed during his visit to Lalgarh last week.

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