From an army of nearly 100 guerrilla fighters in about a dozen armed squads across three districts of the state in 2011 to only one squad in 2017 – that too based out of the state borders – the presence of Maoists in Bengal has almost vanished following the series of surrenders over the past few weeks.
“Security officials in West Midnapore and Purulia districts of West Bengal and East Singbhum district of Jharkhand have zeroed in on the last squad of Bengal Maoists, led by Akash, secretary of the state organising committee. The squad comprises seven to 10 members and is based near Ghatshila area of East Singhbhum district,” a security official told HT on the condition of anonymity.
According to sources in the police, the squad is active in and around Dampara area in Ghatshila sub-division. Atul Mahato, believed to be another member of the state organising committee, is also with the squad.
“We are trying to extract details from surrendered Maoists about the hideouts of the squad led by Akash. It has been based in the Ghatshila sub-division over the past four years,” a senior police officer said.
An attempt to eliminate the squad failed on Sunday, when a joint team of security personnel from West Bengal and Jharkhand encircled guerrilla fighters in Ghatshila area. During exchange of bullets, one jawan of the elite CoBRA force of the CRPF sustained bullet injuries. The security forces are trying to block all exit routes before launching another offensive, sources claimed.
Maoists’ strength in West Bengal reached its peak during 2009-2010, when for seven months between late 2008 and mid-2009, officers at Lalgarh police station even kept the station locked from inside to protect themselves.
However, their organisation in the state collapsed virtually overnight with the death of their top leader, Koteswara Rao alias Kishenji, a member of the CPI(Maoist) politburo, in November 2011.
The entire squad led by Suchitra Mahato surrendered before the police and the Ayodhya hills squad led by Bikram was disbanded in the immediately aftermath of Kishenji’s death.
Maoists tried to reorganise under the leadership of Akash and a state organising committee was formed early in 2013. Akash, Bikash, Madan Mahato, Jayanta and Ranjit Pal led their own squads, even though they had taken shelter in the Bengal bordering districts of East Singhbhum in Jharkhand and Mayurbhanj in Odisha.
Some members from the disbanded squads previously active in Lalgarh, Binpur, Goaltore, Jhargram, Salboni and the Ayodhya hills in West Bengal joined the Maoist Dalma squad and Gurabandha squad in Jharkhand.
However, Bikash and his wife, Tara, were arrested in 2016, while Ranjit Pal and Jayanta surrendered this February along with seven others. Besides, the squad led by Kanhu Munda, secretary of the Bengal-Jharkhand-Odisha border regional committee, surrendered in Jharkhand on February 15.
The squad popularly known as Gurabandha squad was also involved in formulating policies for revival of Maoist armed units in West Bengal’s Purulia and West Midnapore districts.
“The Bengal state committee had ceased to exist due to lack of minimum members required. There was a state organising committee comprising Akash, Ranjit Pal and Atul. Following the surrender of Kanhu Munda, Ranjit Pal and Jayanta, the entire focus of the security forces in Bengal-Jharkhand bordering areas has shifted on the squad led by Akash, one of most experienced Maoist organisers in West Bengal.