12 January, 2011

Lalgarh and the Letter

 
Dear All,

find the following piece in the print edition of Uday India, Vol II, No 7, 29 Jan 2011, pp 30-31 (online edition will be available next week). 

it was submitted on 07 Jan 2011, the day Netai incient took place. 

Investigations and events have unfolded since then. However, the basic picture hardly has altered. 

thanks and regards

Abstract: Violence is continuing in Lalgarh for more than two years now. On 07 January 2011, a new mode of bloodshed has erupted as the people (allegedly aided by the Maoists) are challenging the 're-established' bases of the armed cadres of the ruling Marxists. Amidst this turmoil, a letter from the Union Home Ministry has sparked off a major controversy.

Friday, 07 January 2011. Few villagers of Netai assembled near a house which allegedly was sheltering some ‘harmads’ of the Marxists. After some altercation, the insiders started firing indiscriminately. According to the initial reports, six people have been killed and around fifteen injured. Interestingly, the ‘harmads’ were believed to have been bolstering the Village Protection Groups (VPG) set up by the Marxists. 

And Netai is a village in Lalgarh.

It has been over two years now. And still the events do not seem to have become a part of mere archival documentation. To recollect, on 02 November 2008, at Shalboni, in the district of West Midnapore in West Bengal, a land mine explosion had targeted the state Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s convoy. He was returning after an inspection from the proposed site of Jindal Steel Plant. Accompanying him was Union Minister Ram Vilas Paswan. However, both were unhurt.

The natural outcome of such a purportedly grotesque act was ‘activity with alacrity’ of the state police. In fact, they vented their grievance on the Santhal Adivasis of Lalgarh, a place south-west of Shalboni.

Now, if one attempts to locate Lalgarh on the map, it is most likely that (s)he would face disappointment. The most detailed map shows a narrow road from Midnapore Station, which abruptly ends somewhere near Pirahkata. In his piece published in the Monthly Review on 17 December 2008, Koustav De asserts that the road from Pirahkata to Lalgarh is well made but rarely used by the Adivasis. He laments that the road is of no use to the indigenous population who rarely even possess motorbikes. According to him and quite as well expected, the primary modes of transport of the Adivasis are bullock carts, cycles or mainly by walking.

Well, after two long years full of skirmishes, attacks and counter-attacks, punctuated by claims of the Maoists to have ‘liberated’ the area and counter-claims by the ruling Marxists that the Maoists have aligned with the Trinamool Congress (henceforth, TMC), Lalgarh finally has completed a full circle.

Just after the Shalboni incident, the personnel of the Lalgarh and Ramgarh police stations led a joint operation on 05 November 2008, into the villages of Choto Pelia, Boro Pelia, Bashber and Kata Pahari, all in the Lalgarh area.

The overtly left-leaning magazine Sanhati came out with a gripping description of police brutalities in the Chhoto Pelia village. Partho Sarathi Ray in his well-drafted piece of 13 November 2008, quotes one hapless villager of Chhoto Pelia : “We know the police from the way they knock at the door, just one long and loud knock and then they break in with heavy kicks(emphasis added). They do not even wait for anyone to open the door.”

The tale of the villager was grossly similar to stories of a mismanaged counterinsurgency programme anywhere in the world. When the police or the ‘state’ hardly cares about winning the hearts and minds of the local denizens, the insurgency is further aggravated so that it shapes up as a formidable insurrection.

The state police, in that particular house at Chhoto Pelia singled out a guest, labeling him as an 'outsider' and alleged that he had come to carry out the 'Shalboni Landmine Operation'. On that day, the police were in no mood to listen to the pleas of the inmates and thrashed them with the butt of their guns. One woman was hit right in the eye, reports Ray. She fell unconscious, her eye damaged permanently.

On the other side of the spectrum, the Maoists, the so-called ‘Robinhoods’, have been no good either to the Adivasis. Initially, they had propped up the Peoples' Committee against Police Atrocities (PCPA) as their frontal organisation; which seemingly had a ‘tribal’ look to it, apparently devoid of any Maoist colour. However, with time, the PCPA lost its apolitical moorings and got mired in controversies when one of its top brass Chattradhar Mahato (incidentally, belonging to Chhoto Pelia) was arrested and alleged to have Maoist links. Further, PCPA activists were booked by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in the wake of the Jnaneshwari Express mishap.

To add to the woes of the Adivasis, the Maoists started their blatant acts of nihilism by killing cadres of the Marxists and their allies (who were part of the Adivasi milieu). Individual assassination became the order of the day. The 1970s ‘Conspiratorial Killings’ espoused by Charu Mazumdar through small armed squads became the norm in the area. Hence, such acts excoriated the PCPA of its ‘people’s flesh’ and brought out the inner Maoist core.

Thus, things became easier for the marauding armed cadres of the Marxists, the so-called dreaded ‘harmads’. Slowly but surely, they made inroads into the local populace and more importantly, fought back into their psyche. Indirectly and quite unknowingly, the counterinsurgency forces sent from New Delhi, the CRPF and the CoBRA, aided the ‘home-coming’ of the Marxist leaders and concomitantly, their ‘goons’ who possess a democratic badge so as to legitimize their undemocratic acts.

Ironically, on that fateful day of 07 November 2008, when the ruling Marxists were ‘observing’ the anniversary of the Bolshevik revolution throughout West Bengal, ten thousand Santhal men and women, armed with traditional weapons, came out and obstructed the roads leading to Lalgarh, disconnecting it from Midnapur and Bankura.

In fact, on that very day, ‘notable’ Marxist leaders of the area, Dipak Sarkar, district secretary of the party and Susanta Ghosh, a state Minister were basically helpless in negotiating with the Adivasis. They had succumbed to a people’s movement, Maoist or not.

But, times have changed. On the eve of New Year, on 31 December 2010, the Marxists openly vowed to fight the Maoists in Lalgarh by forming the VPG which will be keeping track of intruders in the area. And the duo of Dipak Sarkar and Susanta Ghosh were back with their political muscle-flexing, which always did not have democratic underpinnings of the ballot.

In fact, Sarkar blurted: “You will have to protect yourselves. The Maoists, who are engaged in killings and arson, will try to hit back any time. They operate in night and you will have to fend for yourselves.”

The venue was significant. It was the Ramkrishna High School grounds, where TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee had addressed a mass gathering on 09 August 2010. Nonchalantly, Sarkar asserted that VPG had already been formed at Radhanagar and in some other pockets of Jangalmahal. Can we sense any Salwa Judum here?

Actually, PCPA under their spokesperson Chhatradhar Mahato succeeded to have the 2009 Lok Sabha elections in Lalgarh without the presence of the state police; virtually making it free of the influence of the Marxists. Soon after the elections, the PCPA, with the covert aid of the Maoists started to gain ‘control’ of the area. And during the first-second week of June 2009, they went on a rampage at the premises of the Marxist party office and virtually demolished the plush two-storey house of the local Marxist leader and Binjur zonal committee secretary Anuj Pandey. The Lalgarh police station was not spared either, thus completing the formation of the ‘Liberated Zone’.

Then, the state government was definitely slow to retaliate since it was in a quagmire: whether to retain confidence in its well trusted cadre-cum-hooligan force (‘harmads’) which paid them rich dividends in Nandigram or to use the begging bowl in front of the bourgeoisie Union Government. Ultimately, the Chief Minister chose the second option.

However, Anuj Pandey is back in Lalgarh and so are the ‘harmads’. The New Year resolution for the Marxists is not just to fight the Maoists in Lalgarh, but actually to keep their hold over the power structures in the state, which they had (mal)nourished for over three-decades. Hence, any sort of TMC-Maoist combine needs to be broken, openly through the ballot, but if need be, by bullet, bows, arrows, spears, daggers et al.

Hence the rationale to form the VPG. A double-reading of the Marxist narrative makes things pretty clear: a fight against the Maoists means a fight against the TMC and an important fight before the ensuing Assembly elections. Still, the New Year party was not that lively for the Marxists as CM Bhattacharjee, their keynote speaker, could not blab alongwith Sarkar and Ghosh. After all, Lalgarh is definitey not the safest place in West Bengal yet.

Of late, the word ‘harmad’ has become popular. At least, people outside Bengal are now acquainted with the word. Thanks to Union Home Minister Chidambaram’s letter to Bhattacharjee. While hurling diatribes against the Marxist (mis)government in the state, the Home Minister used the term ‘Harmad Vahini’ to describe the armed Marxist cadres. Things are quite clear. It’s TMC supremo who is brandishing the sword; only difference is that Chidambaram is holding the weapon.

From the issuance of such a letter and its media leakage, two things could be understood. One, Chidambaram has finally been badgered to the limit by Ms Banerjee so that he has burst, though in an outlandish manner. Two, Congress is considering its alliance with TMC quite seriously and Pranab-da must have had a major role in this regard.

However, problems multiply for the Congress. Kabir Suman, a TMC MP, mostly known for his psychopathic comments, has released a book on the Nandigram incident.

A book is a harmless literary product, no doubt, but till it does not create unnecessary controversies. In his book, Suman writes that TMC has serious links with the Maoists: a claim which corroborates that of the Marxists for a long period of time now. Moreover, Suman, a democratically elected MP, asserts that he finds ‘no sin in waging an armed rebellion’. In effect, he extols the Maoists. As if to buttress Suman’s claims, on 04 January 2011, a day after the book was released, Maoist leader Bikram sent a fax to media houses claiming to extend ‘support’ to and ‘joint resistance’ with the TMC.

The political climate is heating up in Bengal. Indubitably, it’s not only the Marxists who possess the ‘harmads’. All the political parties do, however, in varying degrees and efficiency. CRPF and CoBRA continue to drive out the fluid Maoists, and the area is later on taken up by the state police, which in essence means that the Marxist cadres; much to the chagrin of the TMC and the Maoists, reclaim their lost territories. It needs no re-iteration that the state bureaucracy is under strict surveillance of the ‘ruling’ Marxists.

It is almost understandable that there exists a TMC-Maoist tactical pre-poll alliance since their common political foes are the Marxists. Nonetheless, diffidence is writ large on the faces of the political parties in Bengal.

Far removed from the brouhaha, debates, reports and allegations going on in Kolkata, the ‘hoi polloi’ of Lalgarh live on, albeit amidst fear. No letter of assurance has reached them, neither from New Delhi nor from Kolkata. Probably that letter is languishing in the postal department.


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