Saturday, June 27, 2009

Development could have thwarted Maoists

28 Jun 2009, 0448 hrs IST, TNN

Hargram subdivision (or Jangalmahal) has been in the news ever since the November '08 Maoist attack on the chief minister's convoy. After that, local police foolishly made some indiscriminate arrests (including three schoolchildren and an Adivasi woman), triggering the Lalgarh tribal agitation under the People's Committee against Police Atrocity (PCPA)'s banner.

Maoists entered Lalgarh through PCPA, consolidated their hold and rapidly spread their influence. CPM activists, who were the only obstacle, were forced to quit the party; many were beaten up or killed. The government, having faced a drubbing in the panchayat elections, only watched. The Opposition and some intellectuals made things worse for the government by resisting administrative action. PCPA eve refused to let the Lok Sabha election take place.

Only after the election did the state government seek the Centre's help and a joint action was launched.

The successive governments in Bengal are solely responsible for the Lalgarh mess. As Midnapore SP, I toured the area extensively during 1989-91. After 30 years of Congress rule and 32 years of Left rule, no development has happened.

There are no roads here, save those connecting police stations. Four primary health centres exist, but there are no doctors. People must travel 10 to 15 miles through the forest to reach the subdivision hospital. Government funds were mostly gobbled up by panchayat leaders.

Drinking water, healthcare and fair price of forest products would have done wonders.

But then, even after Amlasole, the government did not rise to the occasion. During my tenure, I pointed out the state of affairs to a CPM leader. His reply was shocking: "Why develop the area when the voters are Jharkhandis?" The area was already boiling against the establishment. To a point, people supported the Jharkhand Party (Naren). But they, too, failed to deliver. The people were eagerly waiting for a platform to vent their ire. Now they had the PCPA. Ironically, the locals have now fallen prey to Maoists and are caught between the insurgents and government forces.

Before the PCPA movement, the Maoists came from Jharkhand, did their action and returned. During the last eight months of the PCPA's movement (when police were completely barred), Maoists established their base involving local youths, who mostly sold forest goods and sal leaves.

Now things have come to such a pass that it won't be easy to combat the uprising.

The Maoists have already found footholds in Jharkhand, Orissa, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh. The forces may have set up camps at strategic points, but this won't deter the Maoists.

Like the Grey Hounds of Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal should have raised at least three or four special battalions. If they begin now, another two years will pass before force graduates. This, alongside the much-needed development work, could still help. Better late than never!

Pratibha Nath Saha

(The writer is an IPS officer, who served as Midnapore SP in the early '90s)

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