What Mamata Banerjee did right to wipe out Maoist violence in West Bengal
When she assumed power, Bengal was bleeding due to the Maoist insurgency.india Updated: May 10, 2017 10:48 IST
An insurgent ambush in Chhattisgarh that killed 25 paramilitary personnel has raised questions about the government’s counter-insurgency measures and intelligence gathering.
But next door in West Bengal, chief minister Mamata Banerjee has successfully contained a festering Maoist problem that threatened to destabilise large swathes of the state even a decade ago.
After she came to power in May 2011, Banerjee followed a three-pronged approach.
One, she set up a crack team of police officers to deal with the rebels with the gun. Second, she kept luring the rebels with offers for returning to the mainstream.
The third plank of this strategy consisted of confidence-building measures with the people of Jangalmahal - the three districts of West Midnapore, Purulia and Bankura where CPI(Maoist) had virtually set up a ‘liberated zone’ between 2009 and 2011.
This paid rich dividends. When she assumed power, Bengal was bleeding due to the Maoist insurgency. The state recorded more than 500 deaths between 2009 and 2011. But dramatically, a year into her rule, the Maoist organisation was virtually wiped out in the state.
She started by raining the Maoist strongholds with welfare/development projects. The chief minister personally monitored the progress of the projects in these areas. For boosting incomes, she stressed on agriculture and forest product-based village industries that the local population (mostly people from backward communities) were traditionally comfortable with.
The chief minister also concealed an iron fist inside the velvet glove. She asked the security forces to conduct raids only on the basis of specific information, and to pick up important functionaries, without creating panic among locals or harassing them. The local organisation of Trinamool Congress was used to collect information about the Maoist network, while she also endorsed creation of vigilante groups.
Several hundred local youths were also engaged as informers and Special Police Officers (SPOs), who mainly helped in gathering information on the rebels and showing routes to their hideouts.
Owing to these policies, Maoists failed to create any movement against the new government. After the security forces managed to kill Kishanji in an operation in November 2011, Mamata increased her thrust on expediting development projects in Jangalmmahal.
Within the next five years, her government managed to bring almost all prominent Maoist leaders to the mainstream, offering them security and a peaceful life, with an effective surrender policy.
Her Banerjee’s detractors, however, complain that she is guilty of backing out of the promise of withdrawing Centre-state joint forces from Jangalmahal and releasing political prisoners -- mostly Maoists -- from the jail.