Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Officials held hostage in Lalgarh

4 Dec 2008, 0238 hrs IST, TNN

JHARGRAM/KOLKATA: The Lalgargh crisis deepened on Wednesday when Maoist-led tribals kidnapped two top West Midnapore district officials and held
them hostage in forests, just 5 km from Jhargram town. This comes only a day after the Left Front won the Jhargram municipal polls.

The tribals arm-twisted the administration into freeing four agitators detained by police earlier in the day before they released the officials in exchange.

The standoff began in the afternoon after police rounded up four Adivasis trying to block the state highway at Kalabani, between Lodhasuli and Jhargram. In retaliation, members of the Maoist-led Committee Against Police Atrocities started felling trees to block the highway. When SDO Tanmoy Chakrabarty and SDPO Arnab Biswas reached the spot to clear the blockade (under instructions from DM N S Nigam), some agitators provoked them to the wayside, where they were surrounded by men with bows and arrows.

A huge police force was sent to Kalabani in the evening to rescue the two officers, but they decided not to provoke a confrontation with the armed tribals. It was after additional DM (general) Raja Aron Israel intervened that the hostages were freed in exch-ange for the four detained Adivasis.

The incident is enough indication of the simmering tension in Jangalkhand. Soon after winning the tribal wards in Jhargram town, the local CPM became proactive, leading to a confrontation between Left-backed traders and the motorbike brigade of Chhatra Kurmi Sangram Committee that was trying to enforce its bandh call in the morning. Traders bashed up some bandh supporters. Emboldened, the administration decided to take on the tribals in their jungle turf, only to land in the Maoist trap.

The move boomeranged because it is the tribals who got what they wanted. The message has reached far-flung hamlets in Jangalkhand. Upbeat with the "victory", the Committee Against Police Atrocities has cal-led a meeting in Narcha village near Lalgarh on Thursday, spokesperson Chhatradhar Mahato said, hinting they would step up the ante against the government after the meeting.

The situation might reach a flashpoint any day, but it's a situation that chief minister Buddhadeb Bhatta-charjee is desperately trying to avoid. The tension is palpable, as CPM's youth wing DYFI is organizing a public gathering at Chandrakona in West Midnapore. CPM minister Susanta Ghosh, who is on the Maoist hit list, will address the meeting.

Annoyed with Wednesday's fracas, the CM wants to go slow on the Lalgarh front. He is sympathetic to the Adivasi cause. "The situation in Lalgarh is serious. Most tribals are innocent. A few are masterminding the trouble, but what will they gain by felling trees and digging up roads?" Bhattacharjee said on Wednesday.

Prodded by the chief minister, home secretary Asok Mohan Chakrabarti met the DMs of West Midnapore, Bankura and Purulia to chalk out ways to improve the living conditions in Jangalkhand.

To pacify the tribals, the government plans to lay out a huge bounty in the form of employment, scholarships, pension for the aged and other development projects.

A token amount from the CM's relief fund would be released for use in the area, possibly for drinking water facilities. The home secretary has already directed backward classes welfare secretary R D Meena to conduct a probe into the complaints of torture in Lalgarh.

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