Revolution in South Asia

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India’s Flames of People’s Anger: Lagarh Update #2 part 3

Posted by n3wday on August 18, 2009

adivasi-maoists-cpm-communist-party-of-india-marxist-west-bengal-lalgarhThanks to D for making us aware of this. The previous articles leading up to this one are available here and here. We are breaking this post into three parts because of its length. This is part 3. Part 1 and part 2 are available here and here.

Singur to Lalgarh via Nandi gram: Rising Flames of People’s Anger against Displacement, Destitution and State Terror

Lalgarh Update 2

Amit Bhattacharyya

Maoist Leader Kishanji Speaks on the Significance of the Lalgarh Movement and the Passive Attitude of Kolkata Intellectuals

This piece is based on an interview which was published in the Biplabi Gana Pratirodh, the mouthpiece of Gana Pratirodh Mancha (Forum for People’s Resistance) in its June 2009 1st year no.3 issue. It was taken, as we learn from the editorial note, before the results of the Lok Sabha elections were declared. The interview covered many aspects of which we have taken only those which are relevant for our purpose. This is the only piece available at hand till now where we could get an idea of how the Maoist leadership has assessed this historic struggle. Some portions of the text, I feel, need clarification. However, in view of the overall present situation, it is next to impossible to get any direct access to him. So we are keeping the text exactly as it was published in the periodical. This is a free translation from the Bengali original.

Lalgarh is second Naxalbari: The Naxalbari movement has brought forward an alternative to parliamentary politics. After Telangana, Naxalbari brought armed struggle to the political agenda. When Naxalbari received a setback, the Communist Party, though in existence, was a very weak and ordinary force. The Lalgarh movement started in November and its historical context is the success of the November revolution. In the state of West Bengal, revisionist social fascists have been in power for more than three decades. Lalgarh got rid of this politics. In none of the other states was the CPI (M) in power for long. They came to power in Kerala earlier, but were unable to remain in power for long. During the thirty years the CPI (M) was in power in West Bengal, they converted it into an experimental ground of how revisionism could strike root throughout the world. Thus West Bengal became the real testing ground for the genuine revolutionary force. Here one thing should be kept in mind. The area which is weak from their point of view will crumble first. In this state, they are comparatively weak and revolutionary forces are strong in Jangalmahal. For this reason, the Lalgarh movement could be built up here. In no other part of the country, not to speak even of Naxalbari, could a movement with such a powerful mass base be built up. For this reason, we are considering the Lalgarh movement as the second Naxalbari. There is also another observation here. At present, under the leadership of our party, in Dandakaranya, Andhra, Bihar, Orissa and Jharkhand, resistance movement has been advancing. This advance is developing towards positional war. It was at such a moment that the Lalgarh movement was born. The movement spread and people of 1100 villages got themselves associated with it. In the areas blockaded, thousands of people sat down on the road—this developed into a rebellion. Why did the revolt continue so long? The discontent and anger that had been accumulating over the years burst forth as a rebellion like Naxalbari uprising. It stormed the gates of the revisionists. Lalgarh has showed how to carry out the boycott of administration by combining military activity and mass movement. See the election, there was a massive boycott of votes after Naxalbari. In some areas, polling was very low. See what happened during the 2008 election in Dandakaranya. Boycott was nearly total. Dandakaranya advanced towards mobile warfare. Lalgarh movement is not a mobile war; it is a preparatory stage towards that direction. In those areas like West Bengal as also other states, where class struggle is weak, the Lalgarh movement will act as the torch-bearer. For these reasons, we consider Lalgarh to be second Naxalbari.

Passive attitude of the intellectuals: Actually, as a result of the Nandigram and Singur movements, a large section of the West Bengal intellectuals parted ways with the CPI (M). In our country, a sizeable section of the intellectuals was associated with the Communist movement. Before the division of the CPI, most of the intellectuals were with them. There was an organization of writers and intellectuals also. In the later period, a large section of them got themselves attached to the CPI (M). Then after the Naxalbari movement, intellectuals again got divided. As a result, one part joined the stream of Naxalbari, while the other remained with the CPI (M). Specially a large section of intellectuals in West Bengal joined the stream of Naxalbari. However, when the Naxalbari movement faced a setback in the decade of the seventies, this section of intellectuals almost receded into the background. Except one or two, the polarization among intellectuals came again as a result of the influence of Singur and Nandigram movements.

Today, we are confronted also with another problem. Throughout the world, imperialism, particularly the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have been purchasing intellectuals through various means. In today’s world, in any country in any university, professors are either directly or indirectly connected with World Bank or IMF projects. In this way, the many intellectuals in West Bengal are given advantages by the CPI (M) and thereby kept within their fold.

Another thing should be considered. In the present-day social life, luxurious living and consumerism are increasing to such an extent that there is no limit to people’s lust for luxury. On the other hand, all political parties are buying intellectuals. During the last few decades, there was the weakening of mass movements, and this had its impact on the intellectuals as well. Along with that, what is also noticeable is the weakness in our movement. Although we have been able to develop armed guerrilla struggle into the stage of mobile warfare, we have not been able to spread the political movement in a way so as to influence the intellectuals throughout the country. For these various reasons, the intellectual section today is not in a position to combat state terror. There is a change in the method of state terror also.

At one point of time Andhra Pradesh was the hub of social activism of intellectuals. Civil rights organisations also supported armed struggle there. The state killed some of them. It even killed Dr Ramanatham, a children’s doctor. In the later days, due to the pressure put on the state by various intellectuals and organisations, the state could not commit such brutality for decades. Once they had killed Dr. Ramanatham; now they kept Dr. Binayak Sen behind the bars for two years. This imprisonment of Dr. Sen had its effect on various intellectuals and that is precisely what the state wants. But now if the intellectuals do not cast off their middle class mentality, they won’t be able to counter the state. Just pay attention to the case of West Bengal. A large number of intellectuals came out to the streets in a spontaneous procession with the participation of around 70 to 80 thousand after 1 0th November 2007. Later, however, they got themselves tied up, either directly or indirectly, with various parliamentary parties. Now they will not come out of the ambit of parliamentarism. Whatever solutions they seek, they want that to occur within the fold of parliamentary politics. Don’t they know that problems cannot be solved within the parliamentary process? That they know, but they won’t come out of it. They will openly criticise ‘Maoism’ and oppose the revolutionaries during the period of war. During the last forty years since the beginning of Naxalbari movement, there had been many ups and downs. Many generations have seen so many ups and downs during the course of people’s war. Thus to remain revolutionary for long is no easy task. That is why Mao said clearly that it was easy to do good work for some days, but to do good work for the whole life was not that easy. We have to realise this well enough. Along with this, ideological struggles have also receded to the background; particularly after the setback in Russia and China, post-modernism has raised its head in a big way. Post-modernism has blurred the vision of the future among intellectuals. This also is a major cause. There is no ideological clarity. Without ideological clarity it is no easy task for the intellectuals to come to the field of struggle. The inability to fight an ideological struggle across the country in order to demolish these erroneous philosophical trends had been one of our major weaknesses. Illusion about imperialism, even if indirectly, has developed as a result. Similarly some faith in parliament and constitution has also developed. We are also weak in waging the struggle that is needed to help them break out of this bond. Because of all these reasons, the progressive, revolutionary role that is essential for the intellectuals to play suffers from serious weakness; there is erroneous thinking and they are confined within the parliamentary framework. Although one section among them recognises the need of revolutionary struggle, they have some hesitation in extending vocal support to it by wishing away state terror. That is why what we need today is more Lalgarhs, more Nandigrams, more political movements. Once they realise all this, there can be a polarisation among intellectuals.

State Suddenly Realises that there had been no Development for the Adivasis for Decades

Both the central and state governments have suddenly awakened to the realisation that there had been no development at all in the Jangalmahal area. A task force has been formed and Rs.100-crore package for Lalgarh mulled precisely at a time when the joint armed forces of the same governments have been letting loose hell in the Jangalmahal villages. Departments like agriculture, health, Paschimanchal Unnayan Affairs, ARD, irrigation, PHE, panchayat and rural development, etc would recommend development projects. The project proposals will be prepared after the eight bureaucrats of different departments of the state government hold discussions with local people to ascertain their needs (The Statesman, 1 July 2009). In order to woo the tribals in the backward areas of Bankura and Purulia, the state government has started talking about setting up a university in the two districts to address the long-standing demand of the region (HT Kolkata Live 24 June 2009). According to news reports, a 32-point charter of recommendations has been sent to the central government for undertaking developmental work in the region (ABP, 2 July 2009). In an attempt to appease the tribal community, the West Bengal School Education Minister, Partha De said that Santhali medium education will be imparted to the tribal students up to the secondary level very soon (The Statesman, 7 July 2009). Side by side, as if not to be accused of lagging behind, the West Medinipur district health administration has prepared a blueprint to upgrade primary health centres(PHCs) in Ramgarh, Dharampur, Pirakata, Bhimpur, Kantapahari and many other areas in the Maoist dominated zone(HT Kolkata Live, 24 June 2009).

Lalgarh Effect in other States

The Lalgarh movement has already become a symbol of resistance against the oppressors and the lesson has been learnt by adivasis in other states also. Tribals of Koraput, Orissa reportedly supported by the Maoists, have started tilling their lands over which they had forfeited their “legal claims” due to skulduggery of rapacious traders, non-tribal local businessmen and outsiders many years ago. Many adivasis in Narayanpatna block, with pieces of red clothes covering their head or tied to their wrists, marched into agricultural fields on 7 July and ploughed the rain-soaked fields as some armed with sharp-edged weapons kept surveillance over the proceedings. Narayanpatna was completely cut off after all roads leading to the area were blocked with felled trees. On 18 June, nine personnel of the Orissa Special Striking Force (OSSF) were killed in a landmine blast triggered by the Maoists, when they were moving in a vehicle to remove the trees from the road. The roads were cleared only after the Central Home Minister P Chidambaram visited Koraput on 25 June. During the 12-day blockade of Narayanpatna, the activists of the Chasi Muliya Adivasi Sangha (CMAS), which is spearheading the movement to restore the lands to the dispossessed tribals, had started forcibly occupying the lands possessed by the non-tribals. Srikant, the state convenor of CMAS, told a reporter: “Under the regulations of 1956, tribal land cannot be transferred or sold to non-tribals without the government’s permission. But nearly 2000 acres in Bandhugaon clock and another 400 acres in Narayanpatna have been taken over by traders, businessmen and influential local non-tribals over many years. The government did nothing to restore the lands to the rightful tribal owners and hence, we have launched this agitation”. The government, as usual, has branded it as a Maoist-backed movement. If the Maoists have made a political intervention as a result of the failure of the successive governments to meet the legitimate demands of the adivasis, then for all this, the governments themselves are to blame. Meanwhile, indications are that Koraput is going the Lalgarh way.

The Contours of Lalgarh Battle

The developments in Jangalmahal got influenced by events happening elsewhere, which have similar political significance. On 12 July 2009, as reported in all the leading dailies, the Maoist guerrilla army trapped a huge contingent of police and paramilitary personnel in Rajnandgaon district of Chhattisgarh, killed as many as 36(or 44) jawans including one SP, injured many and decamped with their weapons(TOI, 13-7-09). As reported in one daily, the jawans in the Jangalmahal area were so panic-stricken by the threat of Maoist attack that after the completion of post-mortem of the two CPI (M) cadres killed by the Maoist guerrilla army in the night of 10 July, they failed to take the bodies to Shirsi village in the Dherua area (Sanbad Pratidin, 13-7-09).

Meanwhile, as the news of the Chhattisgarh ambush spread and pictures of the dead bodies of the jawans were shown on the TV channels, terrible fear gripped the paramilitary and police forces. In Chhattisgarh, the Maoists allowed the jawans to enter the dense forests of the Sitagaon area of Rajnandgaon and then launched a series of ambushes. Though in the Jangalmahal area, such serious incidents didn’t take place, the joint armed forces have feared similar attacks. They had set up three camps in the forest area, and immediately after that, the Maoist armed squads had killed one CPI (M) leader after another at places which are only at stone-throw distances from the camps. According to press reports, the members of the families of the jawans had been making frantic calls to their kith and kin (Bikeler Pratidin, 13-7-09).

The central intelligence officials were making enquiries into the possibilities of connections between the Maoist activities in Rajnandgaon and those in Jangalmahal. According to unconfirmed reports, some posters were seen in the jungle area between Khorgaon and Karkoti villages in Rajnandgaon district, which asserted that the ambush in that place was in retaliation to paramilitary atrocities in the Jangalmahal area of West Bengal (Sanbad Pratidin, 14-7-09). However, the SP, Manoj Verma denied that the armed forces had been suffering from a fear psychosis due to the ambushes in Chhattisgarh(Dainik Statesman, 18-7-09).

Police Forces Gripped by Fear-psychosis Using People as Human Shields

However much the senior police officials might deny the mental stress undergone by the jawans for fighting an invisible and elusive enemy, the stress of the battle for Lalgarh is proving to be too much for many of them. In order to avoid a Maoist strike, senior officials are using everything from vehicles with Press stickers to ambulances to move around the forested terrain. As for example, during the bandh on 22 July, police supplied food and essential items to the Dharampur and Gohamidanga police camps in an ambulance. “Some officers are using Press and other stickers like ‘patient’, ‘LIC’ and ‘BSNL’. This is increasing the risk for vehicles sporting authentic stickers”, said a constable. This implies that these state agents are actually using genuine patients, LIC and BSNL staffs as human shields, which the West Bengal home department itself had accused the Maoists precisely of doing. “Some senior officers have gathered stacks of these stickers and are using them after removing the police tag from vehicles. There are at least 12 four-wheelers with such stickers. They are even changing number plates to prevent identification”.

Another policeman said: “Our seniors are taking off stars and other identification marks from their uniforms and are moving around as constables and home-guards. They are moving with us as they know fully well that Maoists generally target only higher-ranked officers”. Another constable from North 24-Parganas alleged: “We have no training in firing tear-gas shells or automatic rifles, but the seniors are forcing us to carry SLR rifles (sic!) and tear-gas guns. Some aged constables have been sent for duty here, which violates a police department order. The order clearly states that only policemen below 40 years of age were to be sent. We have some constables here between 50 and 55 years”.

As the battle for Lalgarh has been dragging for days and months with no clear victory in sight for those who imposed this unjust war on the people of Jangalmahal, the murmurs of protest are growing louder among the rank and file. “This might spark a revolt. Our superiors had told us that we would be on duty here for a maximum of two weeks, but we have already spent a month in this hostile terrain. The money we had also been running low”. Why are the Maoists still roaming freely in the area? According to a media person, a CRPF jawan had a unique reply: “Actually, we came here to provide protection to the policemen. There is not much else for us to do” (TOI, 23 July 2009).

It has now become quite clear that the joint armed forces have not been able to apprehend any one of the Maoists so far. The Maoists apparently, as the intelligence officials admit, have a far better intelligentsia network than the police and pick out police informers with ease. “They have killed many for supplying information to the police. We can’t expect a villager to turn up with specific information about guerrillas in Maoist hotbed”, one senior officer said. Kuldeep Singh, IGP, had to admit that the police had not been able to flush out the rebels from the forests. “The jungles of Pingboni, Kadashole, Kantapahari and Jhitka are inter-linked and the guerrillas can go from one place to another freely”, he said (The Telegraph, 13 July 2009).

Students, Guardians and Teachers Raise their Voice

On 13 July 2009, at Gohomidanga, 600 students took out a procession and marched to the local high school, demanding that the armed forces staying in their school building should move out (The Telegraph, 14 July
2009). On 18 July, when the Chief Minister of West Bengal came to Bankura, he was forced to admit that occupation of schools by jawans was wrong and promised to shift camps from school buildings in no time (ABP, 19 July 2009). However, the Chief Minister of West Bengal appears to flaunt one face in public speeches and another in actual practice. Those who have observed him at least from the Singur-Nandigram days would know how his real face looks like. So on 20 July, more than 10,000 people, including children and their guardians, were lathi-charged while holding a demonstration in front of Gohamidanga High School. They were demanding for the past one month that the combined armed forces vacate the school building. According to PCAPA sources, over 50 people were hurt as result. The students, who were at the forefront of a procession that arrived at the school building, bore the main brunt of lathi-charge (HT, 21 July 2009).

In protest against the lathi¬charge, students and guardians started a relay hunger strike from 22 July by setting up a platform (dharna manch) in Gohamidanga and demanded that the DSP, Burdwan, Jyotimoy Roy and the Circle Inspector Asit Bhattcharya should tender apology for ordering the lathi-charge. The students flaunted posters written on sheets of paper, some of which read as follows: “Shame, shame, Buddhababu, we came to school to study only to find that you have kept jawans to beat us. Does ‘Sarbashiksha abhijan’ (Literacy for all) mean precisely this?”. Another poster read as follows: “We spit on you Mr. Chidambaram, does your plan of adivasi development mean beating us? Why are you creating so much trouble in our lives? Is this the policy of the Congress?” (Free translation from the Bengali original) Simple words, but with profound implications. (Bartaman, 23 July 2009).

The Bhimpur High School is under the minority commission. It has also been taken over by the armed forces. More than two hundred students of this school along with their teachers covered a distance of 35 kms and went to meet and demonstrate in front of the office of district magistrate in Midinipur town. They could meet the additional district magistrate Aswini Yadav and demanded the withdrawal of armed forces within two days failing which they would start hunger strike along the line of Dharampur (Ekdin, 25 July 2009).

The setting up of paramilitary camps inside school premises caused not only the end of study, but also the end of midday meals for the students. The day the joint armed forces reached Dharampur, one DIG distributed lozenges and biscuits among the students as a means of integration with the local people to fight the Maoists. However, that attempt was too short-lived to have any impact at all. The children of the villages soon saw with their own eyes that those ‘police uncles’ were quick to seize their schools as a result of which they were deprived not only of study but also of their daily midday meals. One leading Bengali daily gave an estimate of the total number of children (in nine schools), who ceased to have the midday meals at all because of the occupation of their school buildings by the security forces. The names of the schools are given below along with the number of hungry students in brackets. 1) Lalgarh Ramakrishna High School(745);  2) Kantapahari Vivekananda Vidyapith(5 87);  3) Ramgarh Mokshadasundari High School(895);  4) Gohamidanga High School(770);  5) Binpur High School(1,194);  6) Tilabani High School(867);  7) Nachhipur High School(599);  8) Lalgarh Saradeshwari Primary School(21 1);  9) Gohamidanga Primary School(135).

The Headmaster of the Kantapahari High School, Asim Gangopadhyay said: “Eighty percent of the students in this adivasi area belongs to the scheduled castes and come from very poor families. As the midday meal has come to a close, almost 600 students are being deprived of getting one meal a day”. As a result, 69 students staying in the hostel were forced to leave and go their homes. Ganesh Tudu of class V and Lakshimoni Hansda of class VII said that they could not have two meals a day. There are times when they are forced to go to bed with empty stomach. The midday meals enabled them to have rice and vegetables; but now that has been stopped (ABP, 25 July 2009).

As the schools were not vacated by the jawans despite the tall talk by the Chief Minister and the home secretary every now and then, the People’s Committee started three makeshift schools at Gohomidanga on 25 July (Bartaman, 26 July 2009).

Many villagers, according to one report, said that protests that began spontaneously among students and teachers were being steered by the Maoists and their sympathisers now. Police sources said that the Maoist rebels were trying to cash in on the anger of the students and their parents. “Had it not been for the Maoists, we wouldn’t have suddenly got so many students in different areas clamouring for the immediate shift of the forces”, an officer remarked.

While there is nothing unnatural in the Maoists ‘cashing in on the anger’ of the students and their parents to champion and extend their revolutionary cause, there is reason to accept the fact that the students would have in any case stood up to fight. Essentially, it also implies that the Maoists have become so strongly integrated with the people of the region that it is almost impossible to isolate them from the people.

Slander Campaigns against the People’s Committee by the Police

When the show of might and repression failed to weaken the resistance of the people, senior police officials have started a slander campaign against the PCAPA with a view to weaken it. They alleged that the committee had forced local businessmen and even the urban tribal people to donate funds amounting to about Rs.15 crore in the past nine months, the majority of which was spent on purchasing ammunition and the building up of the organisation. Chhatradhar Mahato refuted such allegations and said that the police were levelling such allegations only to file false charges against them. “We appealed before all to contribute funds for PSBPC (PCAPA), many people had contributed but the majority was contributed by the local people. As the movement was for the local tribals, they contributed willingly” (The Statesman, 14 July 2009).

Government’s Development Plan

Whenever there is any form of strong resistance by the people against state or government policy/action, the government jumps forward with its various plans for ‘development’. Such steps are necessary to deceive the innocent people as also for their own survival. However, it conveniently forgets everything when the movement subsequently subsides. This is how the ruling classes operate and this is how they would act in future also, unless, of course the people stand up united to assert their rights and dignity and attain their emancipation. This had happened in many places before and there is no reason to believe that it would have a different affair here in Lalgarh. What is important is that such programmes are adopted not in all areas of the country, but only in areas where people are very angry about government apathy and resistance against ruling parties and government policies is particularly strong.

The West Bengal government sent a large body of bureaucrats to Jangalmahal to assess the situation there; and in their report prepared after the assessment, the task force submitted a 21-point action plan. These would include drinking water facilities, jobs, irrigational development, supply of essential goods by modifying BPL and rationing system, etc. All these are to be done within three months through the district magistrate, and not through the panchayats (TOI, 15 July 2009; ABP, 15 July 2009).

Side by side, pattas have to given to those adivasis living in the jungle areas under the Forest Rights Act. Here the government played a mean political game. On 23 July the state government said that although formalities had been completed for the disbursement of 60,000 pattas in response to 90,000 such applications, these could not be distributed due to the three-day bandh call given by the PCAPA and the absence of panchayat officials due to the Maoist threat (The Statesman, 24 July 2009).

Any lay observer would be tempted to ask: neither the Maoist threat nor the three-day bandh was a thing of the past; so why did the government do nothing in the past decades when the adivasis were left to die and fend everything themselves? Now that, according to the government itself, the Maoists have entered the stage, you are busying yourselves and coming up with tall promises of doing so many things. Had there been no Maoist threat, would you have made such promises? The answer is obvious.

Lalgarh Mancha Demands Withdrawal of Armed Forces

The Lalgarh Mancha (LM), once again, at a press conference held on 13 July, demanded the immediate withdrawal of troops from different areas, including educational institutions in Lalgarh and initiate discussion with the PSBPC. On behalf of the Mancha, Sujato Bhadra said that the imposition of Section 144 was illegal and activists should be allowed entry into the area to ascertain whether there were any human rights violations in the area. The members also highlighted the need for dialogue for the settlement of disputes and denounced the government for cancelling the meeting with the PSBPC slated for 14 July 2009. The organisers also demanded the release of Gour Chakraborty, the spokesperson of the CPI (Maoist) (The Statesman, 15 July 2009).

Speaking on behalf of Sanhati Udyog, Sukhendu Bhattacharya said that if the Lalgarh movement resembled something violent in nature, then that was due to the long period of neglect and patronage of crime. Among others who spoke were Swapan Ganguly, Krishna Bandyopadhyaya, Pradip Banerjee, Sabyasachi Deb and Sumit Choudhury and others (Dainik Statesman, 15 July 2009).

In a recent interview with a daily held on 29 July in Kolkata, Vara Vara Rao, revolutionary poet from Andhra Pradesh, remarked that Lalgarh has now turned into a second Naxalbari movement that rocked the state and the country in the later 1960’s. “The developments in Lalgarh are a subject of household talk in Andhra Pradesh. The struggle is inspiring poor and deprived people across the country”, he said. He feels that West Bengal is again turning into a hotbed of revolutionary movement, following the struggle in Singur, Nandigram and Lalgarh, he further added (HT, 30 July 2009).

Continuing Brutal Atrocities Perpetrated by State Armed Forces/CPI(M) Hermads

The repressive police machinery did perform the task for which they are created and brought here—the task of beating up and breaking up people’s resistance. They did it against the students and guardians. They did not spare others either. Chandan Raut, a reporter of the Bengali daily, Dainik Statesman, was beaten up with a bamboo stick and he got injured on the right elbow; another newsman, Lakshman Roy of Tara TV channel, was writhing in pain as he was pushed to the ground. Debnath Maity, a photographer attached to another daily, Bartaman, was pushed to the ground and beaten up; Debraj Ghosh, another photographer attached to Ananda Bazar Patrika, was hit by a stone thrown by a police jawan. Gangaprasad Dandapat of NE Bangla TV channel was also not spared. The reporter noted that it was done particularly by jawans without any nameplates on their uniforms, who had been doing such things. The forces used filthy language of all types against reporters, students and guardians. The reporter writes that some of these persons were CPI(M) hermads or part of the ‘ghoskar brigade’ (Dainik Statesman, 21 July 2009).

The day the TMC central ministers went with relief materials, women were lathicharged in Lalgarh. Mrs. Sitamoni Hembrom, Mrs. Hiramoni Kisku and Mrs. Bharati Hansda showed their scars to the ministers. Mr. Banamali Mahato of Asnasuli, Mr. Haripada Mahato of Bamal and Mrs. Barun Mandal of Goaldanga narrated to the visiting ministers and leaders how they were tortured by the joint armed forces and how studies of school children of Lalgarh area have been affected since 17 June. The presence of the troops has also affected the livelihood of the adivasi people. Mrs. Usha Rani Rana of Bagjhora told the leaders that they could not go to the forest to collect firewood as the joint armed forces were not allowing them to enter the forests. The villagers also demanded the arrest of Dalim Pandey, Dharampur local committee secretary of the CPI (M) and his cohorts as they had looted lakhs of government funds meant for tribal development (The Statesman, 29 July 2009).

Manoranjan Mal, the husband of Jharna Mal, a resident of Pathardanga village, was picked up by the joint armed forces during ‘Operation Lalgarh’ and had not returned since. His wife told a reporter: “come and see how I am surviving, how I am feeding my four children. What was his fault?’ Jharna fails to understand why he should be arrested while sleeping in his own house. “Where should he have slept if not in his own house? If my husband is such a bad man, then I too should be arrested”. When the troops came, they found him in his house, promptly dragged him away and lapped a few cases on him.

There are others, in and around Lalgarh, who have suffered similarly during the police operations. Santosh Mahato of Tarki village is one. Since 24 July, he has been limping along a 4-km stretch of kutcha village road, from Tarki village to the hospital in Lalgarh town, twice a day, to take pain-killer shots. His trouble started on 24 July morning when police forces surrounded the village. “On seeing the police, most villagers fled. I was in my house. They called me out and asked me to take them to the house of a PCAPA leader. When they did not find him at his house, they hurled me to the ground and a policeman stood on my chest. Then I was thrashed with rifle butts. My lower back aches so badly that I can hardly walk on uneven ground”, said Santosh Mahato, who works in a cattle-shed in Jhargram town.

Subrata Bhattacharya, Congress leader of Belpahari, remarked: “Terrorism practised by the Maoists is bad. But when the government practises terrorism, the implications are far more serious”. He feels the way police are arresting people indiscriminately and slapping cases on them, the cause of the Maoists would be strengthened. Dhirendranath Baske, who resigned as advisor to tribal affairs of the government, feels that the division between tribals and backward castes and the other sections of these areas would deepen as a result of the operations. “The operations have broken the back of the economy of the tribals. Large tracts of paddy fields in these areas are lying uncultivated as people have fled their villages. At this rate, they will face starvation” (TOI, 30 July 2009).

Loot and Plunder by the Joint Armed Forces

The joint armed forces have been accused of indulging in loot and plunder of the property of the villagers of Jangalmahal. For a mercenary army such as this, there was, however, nothing unusual in it. The PCAPA has accused the joint armed forces of looting the property of the adivasis and also licensed guns permitted by the government. On 18 July, hundreds of troops from the Dharampur and Gohamidanga camps entered Ajnashuli village at 7am, encircled it and started searching for the Maoists. They first entered Banamali Mahato’s house and ransacked it. The roof tiles were broken and under the pretext of looking for the Maoists, they broke utensils, and threw away rice and grains on the floor.

As Banamali Mahato was in the field to meet the needs of this harvesting season, his wife Mira Rani Mahato was beaten up with sticks. As Mira Devi narrated the event to the media, the troops came and asked: “Where have you hidden the Maoists?” They then started breaking up everything they could lay their hands on. They looted a licensed gun, motor cycle, broke open a cash box and took away gold ornaments, cash and everything. They also beat me”. Then the marauding forces entered Rajkishore Mahato’s house and ransacked it. At that time, food was being cooked on the hearth. The vegetables were thrown on the ground. Valuable articles were looted. As Rajkishore Mahato was not in his house, his wife Anita Mahato got a thrashing. An amount of Rs.10, 000 was looted by these ‘keepers of law and order’. After that, the houses of Jogen Mahato, Kshirod Mahato and Ajit Mahato were searched and the mercenary soldiers burnt down valuable documents relating to their house property. The forces forcibly took away Bhabesh Mahato, Naresh Mahato, Ajit Mahato and Asit Mahato along with many articles. Although these four were later released from detention, their goods were not returned (Dainik Statesman, 19 July 2009).

Mass Resistance Continuous Even Amidst the Brutal Suppression of the Armed Forces.

The presence of thousands of troops seemed to have made hardly any impact on the Maoists who have been operating in the vast countryside of Jangalmahal. They have been setting up people’s courts in many areas and delivering judgements on those they described as ‘enemies of the people’. Through posters, they demand the distribution of food through ration shops five days a week. They organised such a court in Dherua under Midinipur Sadar and carried out the verdict on two CPI (M) activists on 11 July (ABP, 12 July 2009).

On 12 July, they set fire to the house of Sudarshan Das, a CPI (M) worker of Memul under Salboni police station (Dainik Statesman, 13 July 2009). One reporter noted: “These two incidents of Midnapur Sadar and Salboni at an interval of 20 hours are a pointer to the fact that Maoists, untamed even after a 24-day operation by the forces, have reconsolidated their grip in some parts of Jangalmahal with renewed vigour and that too in the presence of 44 companies(sic! At least 50)…The opening of newer fronts by the Maoists, a tactic of guerrilla warfare of the outfit, was enough to bewilder the police…” (The Statesman, 13 July 2009).

Two other CPI (M) leaders/activists were also killed at Madhupur by the Maoists (Dainik Statesman, 15 July 2009). Throughout this period, gun-battles between the security forces and the Maoists have become almost a regular feature.

There is no doubt that at the initial stage of the aggression by the joint armed forces, the people and the People’s Committee leaders got afraid and were at a loss what to do, how to resist. They had never seen such mobilisation of troops with sophisticated weapons before. Gradually, however, they could overcome the initial shock and braced themselves for resistance. The PCAPA held its first open meeting on 12 July since the armed forces moved into the region about 7km from Lalgarh town and addressed a gathering of about 50 villagers (The Telegraph, 13 July 2009). This was a very small gathering to start with at that stage, as big gatherings like those in earlier times were difficult to organise due to military operations. It was decided to hold small gatherings, instead of holding central gatherings. However, once it started going, it gained in speed, frequency and size.

For many days, the ‘left-front’ government, besides initiating ‘Operation Lalgarh’ have imposed Section 144 for preventing the people in the locality to commence big rallies and also to debar people from other areas to enter into Jangalmahal. During the time of Singur movement, the same government imposed Section 144 for months together and even detained and arrested people well before they could reach the restricted zone. The same method was applied here in the case of Lalgarh. In fact, all repressive governments have a lot to learn from the CPI (M) on how people’s movements can be suppressed by trampling down democratic norms and even by breaking the laws which the government is supposed to uphold in order to serve the state. In order to break the chain, the People’s Committee called a three-day bandh from 20 July 2009 in the three districts of West Midinipur, Bankura and Puruli and also organised a mammoth procession in Dharampur with participation from many villages, assembled at Mulapara More and marched to the Gohamidanga High School where the jawans had set up a camp by seizing the school buildings. In the process, they broke Section 144, challenged the authority of the government and served an ultimatum to the officials to vacate the camp within the next 24 hours. Contacted over the phone, the Maoist leader Bikash remarked that their organisations CPI (Maoist) should not be mixed up with the movement launched by the People’s Committee (ABP, 20 July 2009).

On 18 July, there were two big processions, one in Dharampur where around 2,500 people joined, and the other at Brindabanpur where around 3000 people took part (Sanbad Pratidin, 19 July 2009). Meanwhile, the PCAPA re-commenced their police boycott programme in Dharampur and Kantapahari from 17 July (Dainik Statesman, 17 July 2009).

Such processions gradually became almost a daily feature now again. During this period of hectic political activity, people participated in processions of different sizes. The media described some of these as being organised purely by the PCAPA and some others purely by the Maoists. This distinction emerges from a notion— in vogue now-a-days also among some sections of the urban literati—that the Maoists are trying to hijack this people’s movement to further their own political interests. On the other end of the spectrum of this thinking the ruling ‘left front’ and the oldest party of the Indian ruling classes would like t coalesce both the PCAPA and the CPI (Maoist) as one and the same. Although the full story of Maoist involvement in the Lalgarh movement remains to be told, it is difficult to make such a distinction between the two at this stage of the people’s movement. In fact, the participation of Maoist cadres in the PCAPA processions as also that of PCAPA members in Maoist led mass rallies, if not on the same level of people’s military front activities is visible. It is too early at this stage to dwell on this question now as sufficient information is unavailable. If the governments have not decided to totally block the region for the entry of the media and those who wanted study this movement, it could have been possible to devolve on this issue.

Land to the Landless

Faced with the people’s wrath, maybe also because of the presence of the Maoists despite the deployed security forces flag marching all over the region, the CPI (M) cadres and leaders in different areas started to withdraw their membership of their party by affixing posters on the walls or the tree trunks and doing sit-ups (standing and sitting in turn simultaneous holding their ears with both hands indicating their surrender) in the people’s courts (Ekdin, 23 July 2009). Many others had fled their village homes when they found that the joint armed forces which were supposed to resettle them in the villages (like Nehru and Patel resettled the landlords in Telangana villages in 1947-53 deploying Indian army) to renew their notorious activities as hermads were rendered useless in the face of people’s wrath as in Nandigram.

The result was that the land which was under their (CPI (M) goons’) possession, remained uncultivated in this harvesting season. The PCAPA, as reported in the press, decided to distribute those lands among the landless adivasis for cultivation for the time being. Anuj Pandey, the CPM leader whose palatial residence was pulled down by the people, Bimal Pandey and Dalim Pandey own huge quantity of land some of which are khas lands. All these plots of land are in the name of poor adivasis; but as they mortgaged these plots to Anuj Pandey for money and are unable to repay it, Anuj Pandey, the ‘new moneylender-lanlord’ of the CPI (M) has been enjoying the entire cultivable land as his personal property. These plots of land are to be taken over by the PCAPA and distributed among the poor adivasis (Bartaman 18 July 2009).

This ‘land to the tiller’ programme and the distribution of land among the landless poor by confiscating the land of the ‘neo landlords’ is the Maoist programme of the New Democratic Revolution and clearly bears their imprint, but it also clearly bears the mark of aspirations of the local people of adivasis as seen above in the case of Koraput adivasis in Orissa. Meanwhile, on 18 July, another CPI(M) leader was killed by the Maoists in Andharishol village near Jhargram (Ekdin, 19 July 2009).

On 28 July—a day when TMC (the major Parliamentary party after CPI (M) in West Bengal today) leaders were visiting Lalgarh, 16 tribal women were seriously injured when the police did a lathi-charge (beating with heavy wooden batons indiscriminately)) and fired tear gas shells near the Lalgarh police station where the women had gathered to protest against atrocities by the joint armed forces. When the people set out for Lalgarh bazaar to meet the TMC leaders, many of them were stopped on the way, forced back, arrested and beaten up. A more serious incident involved nearly 200 women marching towards Lalgarh police station from Kantapahari. They were almost there, when a large police force blocked their way. But the women tried to force their way through the police barricade, raising anti-police slogans and demanding the withdrawal of joint armed forces. This led to a scuffle and police began a lathi-charge. When batons failed to cow down the women, the police fired tear-gas shells. Salku Soren, one of the agitators, said: “We had gone to Lalgarh to protest peacefully against the atrocities by the joint armed forces. They harass us by searching our houses and asking us all sorts of questions. We are living a life of fear in the presence of joint armed forces and innocent people are being picked up for questioning and beaten up on the pretext of being Maoists”.

Women in Struggle

Throughout these months since November 2008, women had been in the forefront of struggle, irrespective of the form it took. On 25 July, the joint armed forces in course of their hunt for the Maoists, entered villages such as Pathardanga, Amlia and Birkunri and picked up Sishuranjan Singh and Tapan Giri of Amlia and Bablu soren and Tuntuni Giri of Tantishole, at a time when they were busy on the field during this harvesting season of this late monsoon this year. Furious, womenfolk of different villages assembled and marched towards Lalgarh police station to set the villagers free. They were released just before the procession reached the police station. Chhatradhar Mahato said that from 26 July onwards women in the region would directly join the police boycott programme. According to news reports, in every village mohalla (locality), women are conducting meetings and making plans of how to resist daily army operation and raids in the villages (Dainik Statesman, 26 July 2009).

On 27 July, when Paltu Hembrom, a daily labourer of Chandabila village, was working on the field, he was forcibly dragged away by the security forces of India the largest democracy in world and taken to the Lalgarh police station (recently rescued station). Women of the village assembled and marched to the police station and demanded his release and the immediate cessation of raids by security forces. The police- paramilitary complex, however, remained adamant and pushed the women away (Dainik Statesman, 28 July 2009).

The women’s wing of the PCAPA is bracing itself for the struggle against state atrocities. The leaders, both men andwomen, remember every village has equal number of men and women in their committees) have been moving from village to village, organising women and making plans. They complained to the scant media persons available by this time (as the West Bengal Government banished them from this forbidden land along with the urban intellectuals who seek to go there) that when the Mamata’s Union ministers came to Lalgarh, a large number of bikes formed part of the contingent. But they were not accused of breaking Section 144; why then should the tribals be accused of breaking so when they form processions? Why should there be such differential treatment between one and the other? Can there be differential application of the same law? Purnima Murmu and Sraboni Soren, the leaders of the women’ wing, asserted that they would carry on their just struggle against police atrocities (Dainik Statesman, 30 July 2009).

New Developmental Work

Despite ‘Operation Lalgarh’, the PCAPA is consolidating its position extending its influence in new areas such as the Ajodhya mountain area in the Baghmundi-Balarampur area bordering Purulia and Jharkhand. Very recently, the committee has set up a hat (village market) in Khuntanr village where people assemble every Sunday in the afternoon with their wares. The police camp that was set up in Tilai-Keroa primary school was vacated by the jawans. A health centre was created in this area. Amin Chandra Mandal, the doctor, said: “Many patients are coming. The government health centre is very far from this place” (ABP, 23 July 2009).

As the Dharampur High School is under the occupation of the troops, the PCAPA decided to set up temporary schools nearby for the students. The school building would initially be made of bamboo sticks and tarpaulins with sitting arrangements for around 800 students. The teachers of the Dharampur High School were asked by the PCAPA leaders to take classes at the temporary school. In fact, the school actually started very soon.

Apart from this, the committee also decided to start a health centre at Bohamidanga Chowk at Dharampur. This health centre would also have a temporary structure. Local doctors have been asked to treat patients at the centre. Earlier the PCAPA reportedly with the backing of the Maoists had started running two health centres at Belpahari and Kantapahari, both of which are under army occupation.

Needless to say, health and education are the two most primary needs of the people, of the young generation who, as we have been taught to remember from our school days, are the foundations of a better society to live in. However, for the last six decades since the ‘transfer of power’ in 1947, virtually no steps have been taken by either the state or the central government. The people have been forced to live under abysmal conditions without any proper food, health, education, not to speak a decent house to live in. The Maoists and the peoples’ committee have taken up this task to do it themselves by mobilising the people amidst the struggle of this dimension and have thus made a mockery of unending governmental sermons on the development of the J angalmahal region.

Maoists Abduct a Police Official and Then Set him Free Unharmed

Meanwhile, on 24 July, a police officer, Dipak Pramanik (ASI) was abducted by the Maoists in Lalgarh in protest against police atrocities on innocent villagers, according to them. It was around 2 pm when a truck carrying water, from Midnipur, was heading for the Bhimpur police camp. Besides the ASI, other policemen, there were a driver and a helper. When the truck came near Pirrakhuli village, a few hundred people blocked the road and dragged all these men out of the vehicle. Villagers claimed that early in the morning, a police team went to Belasole village and tortured several people. The crowd, then, drove the truck into Sitalpur forest where armed rebels had been waiting. They punctured the tyres of the truck and set it aflame. While the other two were released, the ASI was not. In fact, he bit the hand of one of the rebels to escape. He was badly beaten up. A police team which went to rescue the abducted officer had to beat a hasty retreat in the face of strong resistance by the Maoists. The Maoist leaders claimed that he has been arrested and he won’t be released unless he signed a declaration stating that police will not torture common villagers any more (TOI, 25 July 2009).

Senior police officials made frantic phone calls to Chhatradhar Mahato to arrange the release of the ASI. In fact, there were phone calls from different sides. Ultimately, on the next day, the police officer was set free by the Maoists after keeping him in their company for 14 hours. The officer said that they behaved well with him and gave him rice and fish to eat. He remarked: “When they were taking me to the jungle, I had the feeling that I was going to meet my doom. But they behaved well. At late night, they even allowed me to make calls to my home. They served me with rice and fish”. “They said: ‘you need not worry. We hold no enmity with lower level policemen like you. Our fight is against senior officers and government”. When asked why do they generally attack lower level policemen, he replied: “They said it was to procure arms”. After setting him free, Maoist leader Bikash stated that it was on the basis of opinion of the people, intellectuals and media persons that he was released. (ABP, 26 July 2009).

Police officials, however, held that the release was gained as a result of pressure exerted by the PCAPA on the Maoists. Meanwhile, in another similar incident, two police constables in plainclothes who had been returning to Dharampur camp on a bike were abducted at Brindabanpur on 30 July allegedly by the Maoists are still untraced. Neither the Maoists nor anyone else had claimed responsibility for their disappearance as yet. Search operations had been going on in the villages and jungles for them, till now without any result (Bikeler Pratidin, 31 July 2009).

What exactly transpired is not clearly known as yet. But that is not that important. What is more important is the question: How do the policemen treat a Maoist cadre when he or she gets arrested by the police? What type of atrocity do the police commit against the Maoist prisoners in the police lock-up when they are apprehended? What is the track record of the West Bengal police force and those in other states in its attitude towards such political prisoners? By setting the policeman free and unharmed, the Maoists had underlined the basic difference between the state forces and the Maoist guerrilla army.

Maoists are All Around

For some time, sections of the media as also some of those bureaucrats who walk in the corridors of power kept on saying that Maoist leaders and cadres had fled to Jharkhand as a result of the flushing-out operations by the troops. In the initial stage of ‘Operation Lalgarh’, there weren’t many gun-fights between the Maoists and the security forces, barring some mine blasts none of which could hardly do any damage to the security forces. That prompted some officials to declare that they had been free from panic situation. Such a notion is a commentary on their profound ignorance of the basics of guerrilla warfare as propounded by Mao Tse-tung. This has actually been borne out by events taking place in the past few days in the Jangalmahal area.

As one newsperson writes, “The Maoists have not fled Lalgarh and neither have they given up. Instead, they are organising regular meetings with villagers at Lalgarh and surrounding areas, at times even at stone-throw distances from police stations, outposts and temporary camps, indicating that the government’s goal to reassert their hold over the Maoist-dominated territory is still far away”. Otherwise, one cannot explain the presence of the Maoist leader Bikash in many places, issuing press statements, giving speeches and leading processions.

An officer posted at Lalgarh police station was quite outspoken in his observation: “the Maoists are all around us. If anybody is thinking that by entering these areas from where we were banished the government had reclaimed its hold over the territory, then they are still only day-dreaming. Their presence is being felt every moment”. According to him, the jawans are still mere spectators, whereas the Maoists are actually ruling these areas, remaining almost an invisible but potent force. An officer posted at Goaltore police station said: “They (Maoists) are continuing to propagate inside the villages against our ‘forcible entry inside the territory’ and asking people to prepare for another uprising. It is really tough for us to check their entry to these villages at present”.

The police also admitted that they were still to develop an informer network on the movement of the Maoists (HT, 14 July 2009). This itself is an admission that even after nearly one and a half months of paramilitary presence and operation, the state had failed to isolate the ‘fish from water’.

Maoists Send an Open Letter to the Chief Minister of West Bengal

Recently, the Maoist leader Kishanji has sent an open letter to Buddhadev Bhattacharjee asserting that even if the central government sends its armed force to Lalgarh, it would not be able to ‘save’ the CPI (M) from inevitable doom. He stated that their battle would continue till the state government tenders an ‘unconditional apology’ for the excesses committed by the armed forces on the people of Jangalmahal and the government withdraws joint armed forces. To avoid further bloodshed, the Maoist leader advised the Chief Minister to hold talks with the people of Lalgarh and give them proper irrigation facilities within a year. He also urged the Chief Minister to abandon the Nayachar project in the interest of the fishermen of the area. He also urged him to return land to the farmers of Singur and stop setting up of SEZs in the state.

To counter the charges of unleashing terror on the common people, Kishanji urged Buddhadev Bhattacharjee to send a 12-member delegation comprising four government representatives, four human rights activists at all-India level and four persons who have faith in Maoism. Let them visit Lalgarh and see it themselves who are actually committing terror, stated in a five-page letter claiming that many people have fled their villages owing to state terror. Denying charges, Kishanji claimed that it was not the Maoist cadres but the common people of Jangalmahal who themselves had destroyed the houses of the CPI(M) leaders at Lalgarh (Ekdin, 22 July 2009; The Sunday Statesman, 26 July 2009).

Our Observations

The people of Jangalmahal, at present, are apparently bracing themselves for another round of resistance against the state-led ‘aggression’. The call for general strike (bandh) in the three districts given by the PCAPA on 9 July was total completely ‘paralysing’ West Midinipur, Bankura and Purulia, much to the astonishment of the authorities. The Lalgarh struggle started as a resistance movement against police atrocities. The war launched by the government of West Bengal and the central government by sending joint armed forces against the people left behind tales of torture and brutality which have only added to the pervading anger and hatred that the people can never forget, despite all the so-called healing touches and ‘development’ programmes. The brave young woman, Parvati of Chhotopelia village gave birth to her daughter in a relief camp and despite requests from the authorities, scornfully turned down all offers of help from those who themselves were responsible for her and her people’s plight. She named her daughter ratri i.e., night. The baby was born amidst darkness all around. But darkness can never be permanent and so light will definitely gush out of the dark cavern and the morning sun would smile.

The top brass of the joint armed forces, which had been celebrating their apparent victory and saying that the whole resistance movement is in disarray and that the Maoists have fled to Jharkhand, have suddenly woken up to the reality that the Maoists are actually all around. The events during the past one and a half months have proved that, contrary to what a section of the urban literati might hold, the Maoists have closely integrated themselves with the people and it is difficult to isolate the Maoists from them. In fact, they have been able to combine armed struggles with struggles over issues relating to people’s daily needs. Demands have also been raised for the protection of tribal land, water and the vast natural resources. It is a departure from the policy of the Naxalites in the early seventies.

It is ridiculous to opine, as some urban people hold, that the Maoists have hijacked the movement of the adivasis. The Maoists (then known as CPI/M-L People’s War) had been active in West Midinipur, Bankura and Purulia districts ever since the late 1990s and Belpahari and some other areas had been witness to police repression particularly from the early 21st century. The Maoist involvement in the Jangalmahal region needs to be studied from then on to appreciate what this so-called hijacking is all about.

The Lalgarh struggle has also betrayed political maturity, flexibility and capacity for improvisation on the part of those who have been leading the movement from the front. Some newspaper journalists have earlier reported that “a whole generation of tribal youths is not in sight in villages the security forces have been through in Lalgarh, prompting fears that some could have taken shelter in forests…” (The Telegraph, 29 June 2009). The symptoms are more or less clear. The Jangalmahal region is showing signs of eventually bracing itself for becoming part of a “permanent insurgency”.

1 August 2009

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