By Partha Dasgupta
LALGARH, WHEN translated from Bangla, means ‘The Red Bastion’. The village near Jhargram in West Midnapore block has been a CPM stronghold for the past three decades. For the first time since November 2008, when the Joint Forces entered the village ostensibly to flush out Maoists and allegedly to help the CPM recover lost ground, Trinamool Congress (TMC) supremo Mamata Banerjee literally stormed the red bastion on 9 August to organise an ‘apolitical’ rally. She got together on the dais the likes of Swami Agnivesh and Medha Patkar, apart from her newfangled team of intellectuals, to champion her cause.
But, the purported bonhomie between the People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities (PCAPA) and the TMC was short-lived. In a telephonic statement to TEHELKA, new PCAPA chief Manoj Mahato attacked Mamata for her “play-acting” and “false promises” at the rally, which owed its success largely to the participation of 50,000 PCAPA members.
In Lalgarh, Mamata played the piper of peace and development in the Maoist-dominated junglemahal at her hugely successful rally, attended by an estimated 1.5 lakh, largely constituting people from West Midnapore district. She took the proverbial middle path, urging the Maoists to give up arms and the State to put Operation Green Hunt on hold. Not one to mince words, the leader of the UPA’s second largest party hinted that Maoist leader Azad’s killing was a ‘fake’ encounter, prompting the CPM to reiterate its accusation of her Maoist links.
However, PCAPA leaders Asit and Manoj Mahato gave the rally a miss, apparently to avoid arrest. In an area perennially under Section 144 and open only to armed CPM cadres, it was a commendable show by Mamata, but it would have been a damp squib but for the participation by PCAPA members.
Barely two days after the rally, Manoj spewed venom. He mocked that Mamata was “no goddess who will bless us with we had fought for through ages”. He was peeved that Mamata chose to omit some core issues in her speech such as release of political prisoners including Chhatradhar Mahato, forcible acquisition of forest land acquired to set up factories, and the withdrawal of the Joint Forces.
HE INDICATED that the PCAPA were equipped to fight their own battle and was not prepared to kneel down to political parties for alms. Calling Home Minister P Chidambaram a “murderer” and Arun Jaitley and Sitaram Yechury as “people who have lost their heads seeing our strength”, the PCAPA boss made it clear that they are not going to flinch at the not-too-subtle hint by Mamata to lay down arms and help her win elections.
Barely a few hours after the rally, life in Lalgarh was back under siege. The villagers returned to their huts to be perpetually hounded by the Joint Forces. Inhabitants of nearby villages were driven out by members of the CPM Harmad and Joint Forces. To realise her dream of an electoral triumph in 2011, Mamata needs more than just words.
Photo: Tumpa Mondal