Monday, November 23, 2009

Naxalite crusher changes tune

A STAFF REPORTER


Calcutta, Nov. 22: The Maoist-hit districts of Bengal need development more than police, feels the man who had countered the Naxalites in the 1970s with an iron hand .

Former chief minister Siddhartha Shankar Ray told a news conference he called at his home this evening “NGOs like the Ramakrishna Mission, Bharat Sevasram (Sangha) or those owing allegiance to any other religion” should be involved in developing the tribal areas.

“The people there have lost faith in the police and any mission undertaken by them is bound to be unsuccessful,” he added.

However, he also did not suggest the withdrawal of the joint state and central forces now in Lalgarh.

Ray wants the Centre to intervene because the Constitution grants it the right to “protect a state” in cases of “internal disturbance”. “The way to protect the Bengal government against internal disturbance is the path of development, by involving NGOs like the Ramakrishna Mission, Bharat Sevasram (Sangha) or those owing allegiance to any other religion.”

According to Ray, the tribals had shown a lot of restra- int despite decades of underdevelopment. “If someone cuts off the power and water supply to your house, you’d prob-ably kill him. And the native people of West Midnapore, Bankura and Purulia don’t have anything to eat… they survive on insects,” Ray said.

The man in his late 80s, a former Punjab governor who had crushed militancy during a spell of President’s rule there and been the Indian ambassador to the US, ducked when asked about the Maoists: “I have retired from politics.”

Asked if there had been development of the tribal areas during his tenure as chief minister, Ray said: “Cutting across the political divide, we should all ask for forgiveness from the long-wronged adivasis.”

A central minister should visit West Midnapore, Bankura and Purulia and assess the development needs there, he said.

“The people of Bengal have lost faith in the state government,” he said, adding: “Just like the people would probably not let the chief minister enter the area, they wouldn’t let me, who has long washed his hands of politics, in.”

Once development starts, the “discontent will vanish”, he added.

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