Monday, June 22, 2009

Cellphone turns weapon of mass resistance in cop-free zone


Lalgarh, June 21: A young Lalgarh tribal flaunts his Nokia 1110 despite not knowing how to send a message or save numbers. But he knows how much it means to him and his movement.

“I got this cellphone from our leaders around five-six months ago. This helps me communicate with them and take their instructions,” said the man in his mid-twenties, a village committee member of the People’s Committee against Police Atrocities in Khasjangal, 9km from Lalgarh police station. He has a small notebook of numbers.

A telecom revolution has swept Lalgarh over the past few months, coinciding with the collapse of intelligence as the Maoists-backed people’s committee shut the cops out.

In the three-tier People’s Committee hierarchy, around 800 village committees are responsible for generating popular support for the decisions taken by the resistance group’s 118-member central committee and 35-member core committee, its highest decision-making body.

According to a senior West Midnapore police officer, all the 10,000-odd members of the three committees have cellphones, which they use to communicate with each other.

“Till a few months ago, only 5 to 10 per cent of these people had cellphones but today, almost everyone carries a cellphone. The Maoists and People’s Committee leaders have strengthened their network through cellphones,” the police officer said.

The wide use of cellphones in the area was evident since the Lalgarh movement began: senior Maoist leaders like Koteshwar Rao, better known as Kishanji, and others were giving interviews to news channels from remote villages through cellphones.

Rules for new connections appear to have been flouted, apparently under threats. “The Maoists have got the most basic cellphones (Nokia 1110 or Motorola C115), which have either Reliance or Tata Indicom prepaid connections with life-time validity, for their foot soldiers. In the absence of the police over the past few months, leaders of the committee and the Maoist themselves coerced retailers to sell prepaid connections without any documentation proof (cellphone service firms are required to do so),” the police officer said.

The police are also aware that some top leaders have multiple connections. A senior People’s Committee leader told The Telegraph that the easy recharge option — recharging from cellphone to cellphone — was mostly preferred by the members.

In Maoist-dominated interior villages of Lalgarh on the Bengal-Jharkhand border — like Patharchaki, Bugdubi and Dadra — cellphones help ensure no outsider is allowed in without clearance from the People’s Committee leaders.

Village committee members guarding entry points call up their leaders for instructions before letting anyone in. “Our leaders also call us with other instructions, like assembling people for rallies or roadblocks,” said another village committee member.

According to the senior police officer, the local authorities had considered the possibility of jamming cellphone networks or banning sale of prepaid connections but the plan was dropped as it would have made communication difficult among cops, too.

“By the time we realised how cellphones were being used to wage war against the administration, prepaid connections had flooded Lalgarh. Jamming as an option couldn’t be used as it would have made communication difficult for us (the police) and other people in the area,” the police officer added.

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