The 48-hour bandh called by the CPI(Maoists) across the states of West Bengal, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Orissa and Bihar was successfully enforced in their strongholds in the first three states, but failed to make any impact in the last two.
Barring a gun battle between Maoists and policemen in Orissa’s Malkangiri district, in which two Maoists were killed, and a failed attempt to blow up a van carrying security personnel in East Singhbhum district, Jharkhand, the bandh, however, was peaceful.
“With this step, we are connecting the movement in West Bengal’s Lalgarh with that going on in the four other states,” said Kishenji, who ranks second in the Maoist hierarchy and controls the movement in Lalgarh. “From now on, every police action in Lalgarh will spark off reactions in all the five states.”
Train and bus services that passed through the Naxalite strongholds of Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and West Bengal were greatly delayed or cancelled. In the first two states, private buses and trucks stayed totally off the roads. In Jharkhand, the transporting of coal from the mines of Dhanbad and elsewhere completely stopped. In Chhattisgarh’s Maoist areas, both Bastar in the South and Sarjuga in the north, the bandh was a complete success, with all shops and offices remaining closed.
Landmine proof vehicles have been found wanting in a number of recent Maoist attacks, but the one carrying 11 security personnel near Chakulia town in Jharkhand, 200 km southeast of Ranchi, on the West Bengal border, proved different. All those inside the vehicle remained unhurt, despite the Maoists triggering off a blast right under its front wheels.
“They made a small mistake,” said Navin Kumar, superintendent of police of the district. “They were returning by the same route they travelled when they had gone out on patrol, which they should never have done. Had it been an ordinary vehicle, they would have been blown to bits.”
Despite the bandh call, there were clear indications that the Maoists were retreating from West Bengal’s Lalgarh as the security forces travelled deeper into their strongholds. “We don’t have the strength to combat such huge battalions,” said Chhatradhar Mahato, chief of the People’s Committee against Police Atrocities, the Maoist frontal organisation that is leading the Lalgarh upsurge. “But our agitation will continue.”
“Nothing has happened on the first day,” said a senior Orissa policeman. “But the Maoists usually strike at night. We’re still keeping our fingers crossed.”