Rallying to recapture Hundreds of villagers are being forced to declare loyalty to the CPM
DRIVING INTO Delgunda village in West Bengal’s West Midnapore district, you could almost be fooled into thinking that this is a CPM bastion. Dug into the thatched roofs of teashops, the gates of a primary school and barks of trees, red flags are everywhere. Everyone you meet on the frontlines of Delgunda will tell you that they fled in fear after the Maoists captured this village,that they have returned only with help from the CPM, which now protects them from the rebels.
It is only when you walk to the end of the village to find the poorest family and the shabbiest hut, that some semblance of reality emerges. It is only when you meet a frail tribal lady called Shanti Bai that you realise this is a captured village, but one where everyone is being held hostage by their own state government, where everyone has surrendered to the CPM.
It is not easy for Shanti Bai to speak up. Everytime she tries, her husband, a rice farmer, shushes her up, begging you to go away. “Why can’t we tell them the truth? Why should we be afraid? Even if we are killed, it is better than living with this fear,” Shanti cries. She wants to tell her story, and if you stay long enough, the tiny wooden doors firmly closed, the horror emerges in hushed whispers.
Surrender or face the consequences — that has become the dominant theme in West Bengal’s countryside as the state gears up for the 2011 Assembly polls. What is playing out on the ground is a bitter turf war that promises to make 2011 one of West Bengal’s bloodiest elections. Yet, ironically, it has to be seen in the context of the state’s current battle with Naxalism. Sources say there has been a strategic decision within the CPM to take the Maoist battle head-on. This new strategy consists of propping up Harmad camps across the Maoistaffected district of West Midnapore.
“The public is fed up with the Maoists. They are with us. We have decided that this has to be fought two ways — ideologically and by mass mobilisation,” a CPM source in the party’s Alimuddin Street headquarters, told TEHELKA on the condition of anonymity. “If we go to the people and campaign against the Maoists, the people will raise their voice. We are mobilising people through daily rallies across villages.”
What is unsaid is that this mobilisation is taking place at gunpoint, and the targets have become not the Maoists, but anyone opposing the CPM. Political killings by the CPM and Trinamool Congress (TMC) have always been apart of West Bengal’s charged electoral landscape. Nandigram remains etched in Bengal’s history as one of those flashpoints that showed how both parties are armed and capable of brutal violence. The reason why the spread of Harmad camps must be seen outside that old narrative is because they are taking place in the guise of tackling Maoism.
IB TRACKS HARMAD CAMPS
The main source of arms and ammunition is Munger (Bihar) via Asansol. TapanGhosh, son of NirmalGhosh (brother of a West Bengal minister), and Sukur Ali of Garbetta are training cadres camping at various places in West Midnapore
In Parliament, the Left parties have traditionally been opposed to the SalwaJudum — a state-sponsored militia in Chhattisgarh disguised as local resistance against the Maoists. Yet, what CPM cadres are unleashing on the ground could be the beginning of Bengal’s own SalwaJudum. IB documents, exclusively available with TEHELKA, show the Centre is aware and actively tracking these developments.
Dated April 2010, the IB papers track the location of camps across West Midnapore, the number of cadres, the kind of arms, and the leaders of each camp. They show how state buildings — panchayat offices, government primary schools, party offices — have all been turned into armouries, storing caches of arms and ammunition.
It was the morning of 25 July in Satpati village. From 6 am to 10 am, the security forces had marched across the village, conducting regular search operations and patrolling the area. Suddenly, at 11 am, the villagers saw a procession of 400 men barging into the area, some on foot, some on motorcycles. Some wore black masks, some brandished guns and rifles, firing shots in the air. All waved CPM flags. Villagers who could not run away were picked up and beaten. TapanSahu, a doctor, was one of them. He shows you his leg injury, but won’t let himself be photographed. “Then there will be nothing left of the leg,” he says.
Locals allege that the Harmad assist paramilitary forces during search operations, donning the role that Special Police Officers (SPOs) play in other conflict areas. But, the police deny this. “No civilian is allowed to accompany us,” West MidnaporeSPManojVerma told TEHELKA. However, what is significant is that the Harmad rallies take place immediately after the police and paramilitary have completed regular search operations.
“The forces had finished their patrol and were waiting outside their camp, watching silently,” says SwapanDey*, a farmer in Satpati. The CRPF camp is barely a kilometre from the village. The Harmad camps are at a distance of 2 km on either side. Since the first Harmad rally, all TMC supporters, including Satpati’s elected panchayatpradhanTapan Manish, have fled. “Support us. Leave the TMC. We will return tomorrow to make sure you surrender,” the Harmad had warned.
For the past three months, Satpati primary school had been home to about 400 villagers who had fled from neighbouring villages in West Midnapore. When TEHELKA visited Satpati in the last week of July, the villagers had returned home, having surrendered to the CPM. Bhursa is one such village. TEHELKA tried to enter the village, but the Harmad had already set up guard outside. “Thousands of Maoists are inside. It is dangerous for you. We will not let you enter,” a belligerent cadre screamed, beating a villager who showed us the way. “Call our leader Amulya Singh. You need his permission,” he added. Singh is the CPM pradhan of Kasijora gram panchayat, overseeing 56 villages.
Caught on camera The local Harmad on a search operation with the joint forces near Jhargram.
‘It is dangerous. Thousands of Maoists are inside the village. We will not let you enter,’ Harmad cadres told Tehelka
WHAT THE IB documents reveal is significant because they show how the CPM is slowly laying siege, ripping away the very fabric of a free India.
These are highlights of the IB report:
• Kasijoira gram panchayat office building No. 9 at Pathorjuri village: About 60-70 cadres are there with very sophisticated arms and ammunition like SLRs, rifles, and other small arms like sten guns, revolvers, pistols and 12- bore guns. The camp is being maintained by NishakarChakraborty, MukeshChakraborty, ShyamPandey (brother of CPM leader AnujPandey)
• Camp at Bhadutala party office building: under gram panchayat office No. 10, about a distance of 19 km from the Salboni railway station. About 30-40 cadres are there round the clock with arms and ammunition. The camp is controlled by Shanti Bhuin (local committee secretary), Pasupati Singh and JogyanathMahato.
• Camp at Goaltore Zonal Party office. About 70-80 cadres are reportedly there with sophisticated arms like SLRs, rifles, sten guns, carbines, pistols, revolvers and hand grenades. The leadership could not be ascertained yet.
• Camp at Kasiya primary school building and Kasiya branch party office building. About 70-80 cadres are there in both camps around village Tetuldanga and Nishintapur. They are equipped with SLRs, rifles, carbines, sten guns, pistols, revolvers, crude bombs etc. Information reveals that some AK-47s and hand grenades are also with the above cadres. The camps are controlled by AjitPatar, son of TrilochanPatar and NirmalMukhya, son of SubalMukhya.
• The main source of arms and ammunition is Munger (Bihar) via Asansol. One TapanGhosh, son of NirmalGhosh (brother of a West Bengal minister), and Sukur Ali of Garbetta are training the cadres camping at various places of West Midnapore. (The IB report does not name the minister.)
• Intelligence inputs reveal that a large quantity of arms and ammunition has been moved recently to camps in Garbetta and Keshpur area and handed over to the cadres with active connivance and support of the police. Three ambulances and two cars have been used to transport the arms. Efforts are being made to ascertain their registration numbers.
• Arms and ammunition are also being transported through trains from Jharkhand, Bihar and West Bengal inside gunny bags in connivance with local police and GRP of the concerned areas. The main trains are 314 (Gomo- Kharagpur) 466 (Adra-Kharagpur) and 434 (Asansol- Kharagpur). Surveillance is being kept on these trains.
• Some country-made arms are being manufactured by cadres in a forest near Benechapra village, West Midnapore.
The CPMWestMidnapore secretary denies this is happening. “This a scandal to defame the mass upsurge,” Deepak Sarkar told TEHELKA when confronted. At the Bhadutalla party office, leader Shanti Bhuin bragged about how the CPM had “reclaimed” 50 villages. “Villagers are rallying under CPM leadership showing the Maoists they are with us,” he said, citing the example of Jara village where the gram panchayat office was closed for nine months after the elected CPM pradhan fled, fearing the Maoists. Last month, the pradhan was able to return.
As the electoral war heats up in West Bengal, democracy has begun to collapse. According to TMC numbers, more than 1,000 leaders have fled their elected posts. “Open the door or we’ll burn your house,” CPM cadres warned during a visit to AshishMandal’s house. Mandal, a TMC candidate, was elected sarpanch (village name withheld) in a surprise victory in the 2008 municipal elections. They told his family that he had one week to surrender. Mandal has now fled to a TMC-run relief camp in Midnapore town.
“The police said ‘We don’t have enough forces. We can’t do anything.’ My wife and children continue to stay in the village,” Mandal said. “What is the worst that can happen? Let them kill my wife and children. Then, I will become a Maoist.”
*SOME NAMES HAVE BEEN CHANGED