The ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist) in West Bengal finally made way for a Salwa Judum-type anti-Maoist civilian force, albeit unofficially, even though the experiment drew much flak and finally failed in Chhattisgarh.
A CPI(M) supported private militia has already started operating in Bankura without a formal name. Around 200 km west of Kolkata, Bankura is one of the three Maoist-dominated districts, the other two being Purulia and West Midnapore.
The decision seems to have resulted from the CPI(M)'s failure in West Midnapore, the worst affected district, where the party tried to use its armed cadres to stave off the Maoists.
Salwa Judum, or purification hunt, in Chhattisgarh was a state sponsored movement, arming tribals — many of them children — to fight the Maoists.
But it led to a sharp rise in Maoist violence in the state and neighbouring Jharkhand. In 2008, these two states accounted for 65 per cent of Maoist violence in the country.
On February 5, 2009, the state government told the Supreme Court that the movement that began in June 2005, had fizzled out.
CPI(M) district secretary in Bankura Amiya Patra came out in the open about his party's support. "So far, 15 villages have formed such forces. We're encouraging the villagers."
The force — comprising about 30 people at each village — will carry out night vigils to stop the Maoists from entering villages. HT , however, found that they had no firearms.
"Every night we spread around the village and ensure that strangers don't get to enter. We also stop villagers from helping the Maoists," said a member of the force.
Even though the force's job is to stop strangers, some outsiders have been noticed visiting them regularly to train them in vigilance and intelligence work.