As three of the five companies of Central paramilitary forces awaited instructions from an undecided, floundering Bengal government to enter the Maoist state within state in this corner of west Midnapore bordering Jharkhand, the flag bearers of India’s most powerful and long-lived extremist movement unleashed carnage yet again, killing three CPI(M) workers in a drive-by shooting and destroying homes of other party leaders.
The People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities (PCPA), which is spearheading the anti-government movement and has turned this area of 1,000 square kilometers and 1,100 villages into the country’s second ‘liberated’ zone — after Dantewada in Chhatisgarh — is seeking to increase their sway from next week by laying siege to Goaltore and Salboni 50 km away from Lalgarh.
At 7.30 am today, six men on three motorcycles riddled with bullets three CPI(M) members who were drinking tea at a stall on the National Highway 6 in Bankshole village. One of these attacked tried to escape. The killers gave pursuit for a kilometer-and-a-half, and then gunned him down.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who has called the Maoists the “gravest challenge to India’s security”, told reporters on board Air India One today: “The home minister has good ideas and we will take effective action. Its [the Naxalite issue’s] seriousness is fully appreciated and recognised by our government.”
Although caught in the web of escalating violence, the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee-led ruling CPI(M) was in a bind about how to respond. Bhattacharjee is scheduled to meet the Prime Minister next week.
On Wednesday, Union Home Minister P Chidambaram bluntly told the CM to reclaim areas dominated by the Maoists to control the deteriorating law and order situation. “The impression is that one side of the government is willing to take action, the other side of the government is worried about the consequences. Now, it is the judgement the CM must make. They must move the (security) forces to the affected areas and must reclaim that area which is now dominated by the Maoists.”
But how to act is the question the CPI(M) has not yet answered. While many of its senior leaders saw retaliatory attacks as the only option, others — still fresh from the party’s decimation in the LS polls after the violence unleashed by its cadre in Nandigram to aid land acquisition for industry alienated its loyal, peasant voters — said it could not afford more bloodshed.
That is unlikely to comfort Chandi Karan, 47, the party’s local committee secretary in Belatikli village. His house was burnt down today. “I have no savings,” he said. “I am out on the streets with my mother, wife and two daughters.”
Keeping mum seemed like the only option. “We have no plans to take revenge for our losses,” said another CPI(M) member Anuj Pandey, 49, whose house had been demolished by angry villagers. “Villagers are being misguided and threatened to act against us.” Riding on the back of allegations of misappropriation of money by CPI(M) leaders and of not implementing properly schemes like the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, disenchanted villagers have bought into the Maoists’ dream. They are now ready to act as human shields for the Maoists were the paramilitary forces or state police to come in.
Bengal’s home secretary, Ardhendu Sen, visited the West Midnapore district headquaters along with senior police officers this evening. “The state government is ready for action,” he said. But he did not say when and how.