Shortly before noon, as the temperature inched past 45 degrees Celsius, security forces entered Lalgarh town — on the edge of the zone ‘liberated’ by the Maoists in this corner of Bengal bordering Jharkhand — in swirls of dust and a flurry of V-signs.
Moments later, a landmine went off in Kadashol village — in the heart of the ‘liberated’ zone’. Soon after, advancing columns of Central and state forces came under an onslaught of firing and were injured. They had to turn back.
Deep in their own territory, armed and ready, the Maoists are waiting.
Taking Lalgarh town may at most amount to a partial victory. It’s actually merely a prologue to what lies ahead as the state tries to wrest back turf that has slid out of its control.
“We had anticipated this, and we are prepared,” said Bengal’s director general of police, Sujit Sarkar. “A befitting reply is being given.”
The Maoists, if what some of their supporters said is any indication, could say the same. “We’ve been waiting for this,” said Shibu Hembram, 38, who lives in Chhoto Pelia, one of the 1,100 villages in the 1,000-square-kilometre area over which the Maoists’ sway extends.
“Forces can’t enter the villages here and beat people,” said Lalmohan Tudu, 50, secretary of the People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities (PCPA), which is spearheading the anti-government movement. “They’ll find out to their cost once they come here.”
The plan is in place. Trees have been hacked and roads dug up to create blocks. Landmines dot the area. Tribal people armed with bows, arrows, daggers and spears are at the forefront of the resistance.
The Maoists, with more sophisticated weapons, could try guerrilla warfare from the dense jungles adjoining the roads and the villages. The onslaught — and the resistance — will continue.
There was a single sign of either side somewhat relenting. Kishanji, 51, chief of the central military commission of the Maoists, in the country, said: “We have no opposition to solving the crisis through talks but the forces need to be withdrawn first.”
Away from the heat of the battle zone, Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in Delhi. Bhattacharjee — beleaguered by this threat to his administration on the heels of his party, the CPI(M), being trounced in the Lok Sabha polls — said the Trinamool Congress had close links with the PCPA.
Trinamool chief and Rrailway Minister Mamata Banerjee was quick to react. “If he does not withdraw that comment, there will be severe agitation in Bengal within 48 hours,” she said.