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The invisible Maoist hand back in Bengal

From symbolising terror and subjugation, Maoists are now aiming for a change of perception. Or so it seems, at least in their strongholds in Jangalmahal area of Bengal. Snigdhendu Bhattacharya reports

india Updated: Sep 10, 2011 22:05 IST

From symbolising terror and subjugation, Maoists are now aiming for a change of perception. Or so it seems, at least in their strongholds in Jangalmahal area of Bengal.

In Maoist-dominated areas of West Midnapore, at about 130-150 km from Kolkata, which Hindustan Times visited recently, rebels have not only recovered lost ground, but are also running health centres and schools, building embankments and, repairing roads and ponds.

While the Mamata Banerjee government is trying to initiate dialogue, rebels are focusing on development.

Three organisations — Santrash Durnity O Samrajyobadi Agrason Birodhi Ganatantrik Mancha (SDSABGM), Nari Izzat Bachao Committee (NIBC) and Chhatra Samaj (CS) — are in the forefront of the development work Maoists are undertaking in these areas.

The government tacitly acknowledges the development. "They (rebels) have not yet obstructed us from carrying out development projects. But, in some areas we found people unwilling to work on our projects while they worked on so called peoples' initiatives," said Sukumar Hansda, western region development minister.

"In complete absence of civil administration, we are forced to take care of ourselves," NIBC president Jyotsna Mahato told Hindustan Times in Aguimoni area under Jhargram police station.

The SDSABGM and NIBC are running as many as 20 health centres in Lalgarh, Jhargram, Gopiballavpur, Nayagram, Salboni, Belpahari and Binpur, all earlier Maoist strongholds.

MBBS doctors visit the parallel health centres at least once a week.

The fee is a meagre R5. And for those who can't afford even that, the facility is for free.

The Chhatra Samaj is running about 25 coaching centres for schoolchildren where local educated youths teach for free.

About a year ago, one such ‘people's initiative' saw an embankment — Veri Bandh —build on Kansabati river in Bandorboni. Voluntary labourers from neighbouring villages built the 1.5-km stretch in merely 23 days.

"The more the administration tries to stall these initiatives, the easier it would be to expose its real character before the public," said a local of Kurashole village of Jhargram police station area, who signed off with Lal Salaam (the rebels' way of greeting).

Only time will tell, if the new outfits are just another change of face for the rebels to escape detection or signal a real transformation.