Home minister P Chidambaram has asked West Bengal to crack down on the ruling CPM armed cadres and others, emphasising that the killing of more than 170 political workers in clashes this year pointed to a "virtual collapse of law and order" in parts of the state.
In his letter to chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee this week, Chidambaram also wondered what the security forces - particularly central forces deployed at the state's request - would do if the armed cadres continue to take upon themselves the duties of maintaining law and order.
The home minister's letter follows fears expressed by Trinamool chief Mamata Banerjee over the past few months about recruitment, arming and training of CPM cadres for its armed unit, Harmad Vahini, as well as reports from other sources.
"There is evidence to show that Harmad camps are mostly located in CPI(M) party offices and houses of local CPI(M) cadres. It is a matter of grave concern that these cadres have been provided with firearms," the home minister wrote.
Chidambaram also referred to "credible reports" that the armed cadre were intimidating and attacking their political rivals. According to the home ministry's information, 96 Trinamool, 15 Congress and 65 CPM cadre were killed in clashes between supporters by this year.
"These numbers present an alarming picture and point to a virtual collapse of law and order in parts of West Bengal," Chidambaram said. "I would urge you strongly to ensure that all armed cadres, either under the name of Harmad Vahini or any other name, are immediately disarmed and demobilised."
The home minister reminded the chief minister about a meeting they had had some time back where they discussed the Harmad Vahini, which is active in West Bengal and has given rise to apprehensions and complaints.
"Complaints and references received by us indicate that armed cadres of the CPI(M) were deployed in a covert manner under the guise of 'village protection groups' to guard against Naxal attacks," he said, offering to again discuss the sensitive matter with the CM.