After forcing the police out, agitating tribals of Lalgarh today prevented paramilitary forces from entering the area even as the West Bengal government brought in reinforcement of CRPF men in a bid to break the siege.
The state government had sought additional five companies of central forces to control the tribal unrest in Lalgarh in West Midnapore district.
Faced with the current unrest in rural West Bengal after the ruling CPI(M) suffered its worst defeat in the recent Lok Sabha elections, members of the party’s state secretariat today held an emergency meeting to find a solution to the current political crisis.
After hours of deliberation, the party issued a brief statement expressing its concern over the situation in restive Lalgarh and elsewhere. Also, an emergent meeting of the Left Front has been convened tomorrow morning.
Chief Secretary Ashokmohan Chakravarty said the state government was in touch with the Jharkhand administration and efforts were on to seal the inter-state border to restrict the entry of Naxals. Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has often mentioned that the Naxals are using Jharkhand as their base to launch attack on Bengal’s soil.
However, the state administration is now in a catch-22 situation. If it does not take any action, as has been the case for the past six months, that does not deter the tribals from taking the offensive. If it takes the hard option, then there is a risk of spilling blood of the tribals. Politically, this is not acceptable to the ruling Left in the present volatile situation. By continuing attack on CPI(M) workers, their party offices and police camps, the Naxals are provoking the government to fall into that trap.
There is also a strong apprehension among some of the Left Front partners that the CPI(M) will replace the chief minister. A senior Left Front leader, who had spoken to CPI(M) state secretary Biman Bose hours before the secretariat meeting, found him highly depressed and morose. The Front leader fears that the CPI(M) state leadership might announce its decision soon. But, Rezzak Molla, senior CPI(M) leader and minister for land and land reforms, is not very sure. Molla says: “It is difficult for the party to arrive at a decision as there are contrary opinions prevailing among the party’s state-level leaders.”
The circle close to the party’s central leadership is also vehemently denying the possibility of any such development.
But notwithstanding their denial, the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government is under tremendous pressure from within the ruling Left Front, and more so from the CPI(M).
However, the issue of the change of guard gives rise to another equally important question: who will replace Bhattacharjee? A section of the Left feels that this time the party will have to think out of the box and choose someone who does not have any ‘pro-capital’ image. A surprise name doing the rounds in some quarters of the Left Front is Rezzak Molla, who steadfastly opposed the state government’s land acquisition policy during the Nandigram and Singur fiasco. But, party insiders doubt if the leadership will consider Molla for the top post since he is not even a member of the state secretariat.
Armed rebels are reportedly patrolling roads around the village of Dharampur in the Lalgarh area after police fled. Three people were killed, reports say.
Rebels have been entrenching themselves in Lalgarh since last November and now have almost total control of the area.
Maoist-linked violence has killed 6,000 people in India over the past 20 years.
The rebels operate in more than 180 districts across east and central India and are seen as a major threat to national security. Last week more than 20 police were killed in the eastern state of Jharkand.
The Maoists say they represent the rights of landless farmhands and tribal communities.
The BBC's Amitabha Bhattasali in Calcutta said that as hundreds of workers from the state's ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPI(M), fled the Lalgarh area, Maoists claimed it as their first "liberated" zone in West Bengal.
One of the police posts was later set ablaze and the Maoists were reported to have demolished the house of a local communist leader.
"The Maoists went on a rampage yesterday in Dharampur village and ransacked our zonal secretary's home and party office before setting it on fire. Three of our men are dead and six more still missing," a CPI(M) official said.
The village of Dharampur was the last bastion for the ruling communist party in Lalgarh. Other villages in the area had been under Maoist control since November.
Our correspondent says that taking control of Lalgarh is part of a long-term plan for the Maoists.
The area encompasses vast tracts of the forests of West Midnapur, Purulia and Bankura districts of West Bengal and adjoins parts of the states of Jharkhand and Orissa.
Lalgarh has experienced considerable unrest for a number of months.
The violence began last November when police arrested some local residents on suspicion of attempting to assassinate the chief minister of West Bengal state, Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, after he narrowly escaped a landmine explosion set off by suspected Maoist rebels.
A Peoples' Committee against Police Atrocities (PCPA) was subsequently formed to protest against the arrests. They launched violent protests and strikes against the local police.
The police and state administration have been virtually non-existent in most of Lalgarh since then. Polling booths could not be set up for recent general elections so voters had to cast ballots outside the area.
Our correspondent says the insurgents and the CPI(M), which has been the state's dominant political force, have been fighting a turf war.
In the past few years, he says, the Maoists have extended their influence with guerrilla commanders camping in the area and providing basic military training to local youths.
BBC / 16 June 2009