Is Mamata Banerjee soft on the Maoists?
The Opposition in the Lok Sabha thinks she is. Left MPs, her implacable foes, go a step further and allege she is in cahoots with the Red rebels whom Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has dubbed “the greatest internal security challenge” facing the country.
The Trinamool Congress, Banerjee’s party, and the Congress, her ally, on the other hand, have denied the charge.
The truth, according to neutral observers, probably lies somewhere in between.
There were allegations that the Maoists had helped TMC get the better of the CPI(M) in Nandigram. There were murmurs of Maoist involvement in Singur, too.
It was these two agitations, both against acquisition of land by the state, which allowed Banerjee to decisively turn the tables against the CPI(M)-led Left Front in West Bengal.
And, said political sources, neither could have succeeded without active Maoist support.
“Mamata did not have the firepower to take on the formidable CPI(M) machinery. And the CPI(M)’s
image of infallibility ensured that even those who had turned against the party remained in the closet,” said a
Trinamool leader who did not wish to be identified.
“Mamata needed an ally who could match the CPI(M)’s muscle and firepower. The Maoists were the only one who could provide that. The rest was political expediency. Now, the boot is on the other foot. It’s the CPI(M) cadre that’s running scared,” the source said.
But, the sources added, the understanding is entirely tactical — and both sides know that.
In the past, Kishenji, a top Maoist leader in the Bengal-Jharkhand-Bihar-Orissa belt, has often called both Banerjee’s Trinamool and the CPI(M) “class enemies”. The two parties, he had said, “are two faces of the same establishment”.
Why, then, are the Maoists helping the Trinamool? And why did he reportedly issue an appeal to local people to make Banerjee’s Lalgarh rally a success?
After speaking to several political activists, including a few Maoist sympathisers, HT came to the following conclusions:
* The Maoists, too, need friends in the establishment, who can help out if things get too hot. This, perhaps, also explains Banerjee’s demand for the withdrawal of central forces from the Maoist-affected districts of West Midnapore, Purulia and Bankura.
* Then, several overground Maoist sympathisers — who may not necessarily support violence — also reportedly want a legitimate political platform from which to air their views.
People close to the Trinamool chief, who is nursing a minor injury from a car accident and so, could not be contacted for comments, said she saw in the Maoist problem — apart from the key to Writers’ Building — a chance to seal her image as West Bengal’s “saviour”.
“After the failure of the Union government’s peace initiative comes Mamata Banerjee’s peace offensive. It is a nationally important initiative, but it is unfortunate that people are picking only one or two statements from it,” said Sishir Adhikari, Trinamool Congress MP.
By travelling in an ordinary car — rejecting the state government offer of a bullet-proof vehicle — to Lalgarh, where no Left Front minister has set foot in years, she was telling the world that only she had the wherewithal to parley with the Maoists.
“She can act as a mediator for peace talks. She can talk to Home Minister P. Chidambaram and Prime Minister Singh on this issue,” said West Bengal Congress chief Manas Bhuiyan.
Serious political observers, including some senior Trinamool leaders, conceded that the tacit tactical understanding with the Maoists might not last for too long.
Banerjee’s single-point agenda, they said, is to capture power in West Bengal. And the Maoist goal is to overthrow the state. Obviously, the two positions cannot prevail simultaneously.
“The Maoists will not stop their attacks on the police and paramilitary forces even if Mamata comes to power. What will she do then?” asked a retired director general of police.
The Andhra model
In Andhra Pradesh, there were allegations that the Maoists had tacitly helped the Congress in the 2004 assembly and Lok Sabha polls, both of which were swept by it.
None of these allegations were proved, but Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, who became chief minister, then ruthlessly turned upon them and stamped them out from his state.
Does Banerjee possess similar administrative acumen and ruthlessness?
The answer is not clear.
What is clear, from a series of statements about the Trinamool and its chief, is the deep mistrust in the rebel camp.
“She is riding a tiger. When she tries to dismount, the tiger will devour her,” said Rahul Sinha, West Bengal BJP president.
For Banerjee, the portents may be ominous. Is she using the rebels? Or is she being used by them?
The answer to that question may hold the key to solving the Maoist problem.