By Partha Dasgupta
IT IS war in West Bengal and Lalgarh is the battleground. Close on the heels of Trinamool Congress (TMC) supremo and Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee’s rally in Lalgarh on 9 August, the CPM has chosen to retaliate. In a public meeting on 27 August in his backyard at Garbeta, Paschimanchal affairs minister Sushanta Ghosh pledged that his party will “wrest” Lalgarh from the opposition — that it was just a matter of time.
Ghosh has been true to his word. In the next seven days, the CPM has orchestrated an all-out attack on its former bastion, from where it was driven out lock, stock and barrel by the People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities (PCAPA) in November 2008. The PCAPA drive followed a police manhunt after a landmine blast narrowly missed Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya’s convoy in Salboni on 2 November 2008.
On 2 September, the CPM reopened its party office in Dharampur, some 10 km from Lalgarh, after 15 months. The man who led the huge procession from nearby Harina was CPM zonal secretary Anuj Pandey, whose house was razed on 15 June 2009 by a group led by Maoist commander Bikash. Pandey, who was in hiding in Midnapore since last June, held out a peace proposal for the locals. “Those of you who had drifted away from us, come back. Let’s all bury the past and work together,” he said, emboldened by the ring of Joint Forces who had laid siege on Dharampur.
Today, Lalgarh is surrounded by the CPM. The entire stretch from Dherua in Midnapore block to Dharampur is festooned with the CPM’s red flag. Radhanagar, Sebayatan, Maitipara, Barkala and Baita have already been wrested. On the other side, the party has moved till Pirkata. It just needs to cross Bhimpur and the Jhitka forest to enter Lalgarh. On the north-western fringe is the Goaltore block. Sushanta Ghosh’s men are stationed at Pingbani in Goaltore and advancing towards Ramgarh.
On 3 September, the CPM entered Palasi and drove out the menfolk. Dulal Mandal, who contested the 2008 panchayat election in Palasi on a TMC ticket, alleged that the operation was led by Anima Rout, the CPM leader who was paraded in the village with a garland of shoes last year. “We were not with the Maoists or the PCAPA. We just opposed the CPM. Now that they are back, we will not be able to return,” says Mandal.
His associates Tarani Dey, Prashanta Rout, Aloy Rout and Rajiv Patra echo the fear that their houses will be ransacked and the women will be tortured. “But we can do nothing. The CPM men are armed to the teeth. If we return, we will be killed straightaway,” says Dey, who has taken shelter in Jhargram town along with his mates from the village.
The Maoist stronghold is in the Jhitka forest adjacent to Lalgarh and in the forests of Bhulagera, Lakshmanpur, Ranja, Hatilot and Purnapani to the north of the Kangsabati river that flows across Lalgarh. If the CPM can prevent communication and logistics between these forests and Lalgarh, they would have done their job. And it has been able to do that successfully. Almost.
Around 80 percent of the villages in Goaltore, Salboni and Kotoali are now under CPM control. The residents of Bamal, Katapahari, Netai, Sijua, Jirakuli, Jirakuli, Jirapara, Gohmidanga, Tarki, Belatikri, Chandrapur, Amlia, Chhotopelia, Boropelia, Amokala and Lalgarh Bazar are ready to flee at short notice.
The CPM has worked out a three-tier strategy for the conquest of Lalgarh and Jangalmahal, party sources revealed
The CPM has worked out a three-tier strategy for the conquest of Jangalmahal and Lalgarh, party sources told TEHELKA. The first step is the political facade. Party cadres, sympathisers and workers of organisations close to the party are being mobilised to hold rallies in less-affected areas, to whip up sentiments against the Maoists and the PCAPA. It is important to remember that despite the reverses in the rest of the state in the 2009 Lok Sabha election, the CPM won the Jhargram seat by a margin of more than 2.5 lakh votes. Significantly, on 5 September, members of the DYFI took out a Left procession in Jhargram for the first time in 18 months.
THE NEXT tier is the buffer zone on the fringes of areas dominated by the PCAPA. These are again divided into Base Camps and Operational Headquarters. Harmad camps have been set up, housing cadres hired from the districts of 24 Parganas (North and South), Nadia and Murshidabad. Many of the cadres are veterans who took an active role in the battle for Nandigram. Then there is the core area or the war zone, where the Joint Forces are deployed, ostensibly to flush out the Maoists. The CPM has employed ‘guide Harmads’, whose job is to coordinate with the Base Camp and Operational HQ on one hand and the Joint Forces on the other. As the Joint Forces advance, the ‘guide Harmads’ will follow and sound out the nearby camps, so that their armed comrades can advance to the core area.
Even though the CPM claims there are no armed camps in Jangalmahal, Union Home Minister P Chidambaram officially admitted to their existence. However, he didn’t disclose their location. TEHELKA is in possession of sketch maps of such camps surrounding Lalgarh, drawn by a former CPM insider. The maps also show the specific numbers and locations of these camps.
On 5 September, trying to corroborate the anecdotes relayed by Mandal and his associates, there was a bizarre incident. The road from Binpur takes a right turn at Dahijuri towards the Basantapur ghat of the Kangsabati river. The stretch was heavily guarded by Joint Forces, who were scarce only a couple of days ago, when PCAPA secretary Manoj Mahato was arrested from a nearby area. The dry and sandy river has a makeshift footbridge. About a kilometre from the river were around 20-25 young men, apparently grazing cattle. As they were approached, four of them sprang to their feet brandishing automatic rifles. They pointed the guns at the temples of the two journalists and started frisking them. One of the men in sleeveless vest and khaki half-pant sternly ordered them to turn back. Another man was instructed to escort the two till the ghat. Amid the shock and disbelief, the only thing that could be noted was that none of these men were local tribals. They were in their 20s and looked different from the local folk. Their diction was also foreign to the place, sounding more like a south Bengal accent.
‘Many CPM men have infiltrated the PCAPA,’ says a doctor. ‘But it’s too early to say that the PCAPA is finished’
A COUPLE of days earlier, Harmads attacked a group of journalists in Buripal village, in Salbani, while tracking the CPM’s recapturing of Dharampur. They included Sandip Chattopadhyay and Sambit Pal of Times Now, Amitabha Rath, Arnab Mukhopadhyay and Sudip Guchhait of Star Ananda, and Pronab Mandal, principal correspondent of The Telegraph. The assault was led by Pirakata CPM Committee Secretary Madhusudan Mahato and local party leader Jagannath Mahato. Subsequently, three party workers were arrested, but the two leaders “could not be found”, said West Midnapore SPManoj Verma. On 3 September, Verma repeatedly denied the arrest of PCAPA’s Manoj Mahato, only to do a volte face the next day, when he claimed that the arrest was a “major success” for the police.
Lalgarh is unmistakably returning to the CPM fold. Stung by the heavy defeat in the 2009 Lok Sabha election, it is crucial for the CPM to recapture Jangalmahal, which has 41 Assembly seats. If the party can maintain status quo in the region, Mamata’s dreams of toppling the CPM in the 2011 Assembly election will face a roadblock. This is why Mamata held the Lalgarh rally and has deputed her Nandigram general Shubhendu Adhikary to lead the battle of Lalgarh. However, winning Lalgarh without the PCAPA’s support will remain a pipedream for Mamata.
But where did all the PCAPA men go? “The people of Jangalmahal are poor and lack education. You can buy them for 10. It is impossible for the state to have taken on the PCAPA without insider information. Many CPM men have infiltrated the PCAPA,” says a doctor based in Jhargram. “But it’s too early to say that the PCAPA is finished. New leadership might revive it.”
In the past week, Lalgarh has witnessed 25 murders. Some reports put the toll for the past two years at 500. With the CPM just days away from ‘recapturing’ Lalgarh and the Maoists not ready to give up on the ground, it is going to be a bloody war. This Durga Puja is going to see a fight between evil and evil.
CPM grinds life out of fierce PCAPA
ON 3 SEPTEMBER, People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities (PCAPA) secretary Manoj Mahato was picked up by the Joint Forces from his house in Jamshol village, Lalgarh. With his arrest, popularly understood as an act of surrender, it is almost curtains for the outfit in West Bengal.
More than anything else, it speaks of the ruthless efficacy of the CPM machinery in bringing about this denouement. In less than two years, when CPM cadres were driven out of their homes in Jangalmahal by the PCAPA — undeniably a front organisation of the Maoists — the bona fide Marxists have hit back, recapturing lost ground. Literally and metaphorically.
The seeds of the PCAPA’s downfall were sown in its inception. Lalgarh, the outfit’s birthplace, was always a CPM stronghold. Many of the members were erstwhile CPM cadres.
Despite the abject poverty, jungle folk owed allegiance to the CPM, from whose coffers trickled down small benefits. With the PCAPA holding sway, the local economy crashed. The panchayats ceased to function in the face of fear and non-cooperation by the PCAPA, which could assemble under its umbrella a major population of Jangalmahal — at gunpoint or otherwise.
But the political integration of the people never happened. An elderly woman complains that people are forced to walk to PCAPA meetings, held in the middle of the night, in constant fear of being hounded by the Joint Forces. “Will they take responsibility if the police or the CPM attacks us?” she asks. Clearly, the PCAPA can’t, as is evident from the swiness with which the CPM is ‘recapturing’ lost ground.
TEHELKA spoke to a number of residents in Bhandarbila, a village supposedly under PCAPA control. The overwhelming emotion that surfaced was one of fear. A man confessed on the condition of anonymity that he was beaten up mercilessly for being a CPM supporter and forced to join the PCAPA. “My arm was broken, my cell phone was snatched,” he says.
The small health centre run by the Committee was shut down the moment they saw an outsider. The doctor could not be found. “If we have health problems, we go to the government health centre,” said a young girl who runs a grocery next door. The para teacher of the local primary school, who gave directions, refused to divulge his name. Fear and mistrust rule.
PCAPA’s decline began with the arrest of founder Chhatradhar Mahato last year
WITH THE arrest of PCAPA founder Chhatradhar Mahato on 26 September 2009 began the outfit’s decline. The CPM has been successful in infiltrating its ranks and has used the police and army all too skillfully to push it into a corner. Close to 100 PCAPA leaders and cadres have been incarcerated.
Apart from Chhatradhar, the list includes assistant treasurer Sukh Shanti Baske and Bankura secretary Sibu Murmu.
Whenever they had an opportunity, the Joint Forces killed the leaders — prominent among them founder president Lalmohan Tudu on 22 February. According to sources, the deadline for the CPM to crush the PCAPA for good is 26 September, the first anniversary of Chhatradhar’s arrest.
The PCAPA finds its existence threatened. The last straw was expressing solidarity with the Trinamool Congress by thronging Mamata Banerjee’s ‘apolitical’ Lalgarh rally on 9 August.
Understandably, Mamata is yet to reciprocate these overtures. Perhaps, she understands that the PCAPA is a spent force and is unlikely to be a dependable ally in the coming election.
His head was lying in a pool of blood, yet to clot
IT WAS no fun riding pillion on the TVS Suzuki motorcycle of an overzealous Rajiv Mahato, a 22-yearold hell-bent on showing me the development work done in his village Bhandarbila by the People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities (PCAPA). We were racing down State Highway 9 on the afternoon of 4 September.
Just as we crossed the 15-km milestone before Jhargram, I spotted a few CRPF jawans 200 metres away. Suddenly, they grew in number. Everyone was waving at us to keep driving. As we drove past them, I saw blood. And then the body from which the blood was oozing. We parked the bike scurried to the spot. An accident on the highway? “No, sir, he’s been shot,” replied the officer in charge.
Dibakar Mahato, 54, headmaster of Salboni Primary School and former member of the CPM Aguiboni Local Committee, was dragged out of the school in full view of the students and staff, and shot in the head by a group of half-a-dozen young men, apparently Maoists. Mahato’s brothers suspect that the Maoists wanted a share of the Rs 4 lakh grant meant for the school, which he refused to part with.
Mahato’s body lay on the road, arms stretched, a thin trail of blackened blood running from his nose down his unshaved cheek. His right hand held a blue plastic pen and the le hand, the remains of his sunglasses. His head was resting in a thick pool of blood, yet to clot.
Numb with disbelief, I took photographs of a man shot in the head just 20 minutes ago. By the time I reached Jhargram, I convinced myself that it was just a job and that I hadn’t lost all my feelings. The worst was over.
Photo: Pintu Pradhan, Partha Dasgupta, Gaya Dandapat