From Naxalbari to the skirmishes in Midnapre, Purulia, Bankura and Burdwan — Naxalism has come a long way in Bengal. At times aggressive and sustained and sometimes sporadic and rudderless. But a gradual shift in strategy is showing of late.
After a five-month lull, Maoists in Bengal struck again last month attacking a camp of the Indian Reserve Battalion in Belpahari in West Midnapore, shattering the growing complacency of the police. Forty activists stormed a heavily-guarded IRB camp in Chhurimara village — a Maoist hotspot. Only hours before the attack, additional director-general, intelligence, Sujit Sarkar warned the HT of an imminent attack as the Maoists were on a recruitment spree in in the state.
According to senior police officials, the incident once again proved that in spite of heavy deployment in the six districts — hotbed of Maoist insurgency — of the state, apart from regular raids and pumping in of funds for quick economic development in backward villages, Maoists were growing in strength and enjoying support of a section of people — so much so that they were now in a position to attack police camps like their comrades in Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Orissa.
Sarkar said the Maoists were recruiting from all over the state — right from Darjeeling in the north and to Sunderbans in the south. CPI (Maoist) insiders corroborated it saying recruitment was gaining momentum. There is a reason.
By 2010, Maoists plan to fill a major chunk of the Opposition’s political space because mainstream parties like the Trinamool Congress and the Congress are “becoming increasingly inactive and ineffective” in the Left Front-ruled Bengal. “Of course, our’s is not a mass party like the CPI and the CPI-(M), who induct cadre with little or no knowledge of Marxism. But the number of people who actively support our struggle is much more than these revisionist parties, as exemplified during our recent open meetings countrywide,” the CPI(Maoist) leader said. Insiders, however, said after the merger of CPI(M-L) People’s War and MCCI in October 2004 — to form the CPI(Maoist) — the cadre strength has gone up to 30,000. This is besides the 15,000 People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army (PGLA) members and a more than 70,000-strong, but scattered people’s militia.
Sources say only three districts in Bengal — Purulia, Bankura and West Midnapore — fall within the perspective plan of building national guerrilla zones. As many as 12 armed squads, each comprising 20 regular fighters as well as between 10 and 15 villagers, are active in the three districts. Birbhum, Nadia, Malda, Murshidabad, North and South Dinajpur and South 24 Parganas are the other areas of operation. The total number of PLGA members in Bengal, at present, is nearly 350 but the police peg it at at 150.
The ADG admitted that the Maoists were enjoying support of a section of villagers making it difficult for the police to arrest them. “Villagers support them — some out of fear and others because of ideological reasons. They are getting shelter in the villages,” he said. In Purulia, Bankura and Midnapur, the CPM is on the run. Camps of the state armed police and paramilitary forces have been set up at strategic locations. But the jawans do not enter the forests for the Naxals have a strong “intelligence network”. The state government is trying to put progress on fast-track in the affected districts, but the strategy is yet to pay off.
At the political level, Left leaders are citing the Nepal example, where Maosists have decided to join the mainstream “primarily to confuse their Indian mates”. Police, however, said the movement cannot be wiped out unless development is noticable.