Are Maoists losing ground in West Bengal?By Sabyasachi Roy, IANS
Wednesday, December 29, 2010
KOLKATA - When Maoists derailed a train in West Bengal in May killing 148 people, the guerrillas appeared to be on the offensive. As 2010 draws to a close, however, the rebels seem to be on the backfoot, due mainly to killings and arrests of rebels by security forces.
While Lalgarh in West Midnapore was the hotbed of Maoists when the year began, much of the action shifted to remote pockets of Purulia district as the radicals tried to expand their operations to escape the tightening grip of state police and central paramilitary forces in their old strongholds.
The killings of seven Forward Bloc activists and a member of the anti-Maoist CoBRA battalion of the Central Reserve Police Force this month are indicators that things are hotting up in Purulia.
The Dec 4 arrest of five senior leaders, including Communist party of India-Maoist’s (CPI-Maoist) state committee secretary Kanchan alias Sudip, is seen as a major blow to the guerrillas.
Kanchan has been described as a key policymaker in the party and considered the brain behind the attack on a Eastern Frontier Rifles (EFR) camp in Silda Feb 15 that left 24 security personnel dead.
“This is definitely a major success for the police and the investigating agencies. We hope to get some vital information regarding their sources of arms, ammunition and funds,” Special Task Force (STF) chief Additional Commissioner-II Rajeev Kumar said.
However, the security forces’ drive launched June 18 last year to flush out the Maoists from Junglemahal (the forested Maoist bastions in West Midnapore, Bankura and Purulia) has failed to yield the desired results.
Though a majority of the turf earlier dominated by the Maoists has been reclaimed by the security forces and over 100 Maoist supporters have been arrested, the rebels continue to kill activists of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) and its allies in the ruling Left Front.
Moreover, through the year, around 350 civilians had been killed by the Maoists in Junglemahal, including the 148 who perished in the May 28 Gyaneshwari Express derailment, allegedly caused by a pro-Maoist tribal body.
Altogether 28 Maoists and 41 security personnel were killed in this period.
However, the arrest of pro-Maoist People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities (PCAPA) convenor Chhatradhar Mahato has come as a major setback to the rebels.
With Mahato’s arrest, the support base of the guerrillas among the tribals has eroded.
The security forces made another breakthrough when they trapped Maoist Venkateshwar Reddy alias Telegu Dipak from the southern fringe of the city March 3.
Dipak was one of the top leaders in the Maoist hierarchy and reportedly in-charge of West Bengal and a close aide of Maoist supremo Kishenji alias Koteshwar Rao.
The security forces have eliminated Sidhu Soren, the supreme commander of PCAPA’s military wing Sidhu Kanu Gana Militia, and another key accused in the Gyaneshwari Express case, Umakanta Mahato.
“It is a major success that most senior Maoists leaders are either behind bars or have died. But we need to be cautious as most senior members of the Maoist action squads are yet to be nabbed,” said Jhargram Police district Superintendent Praveen Tripathi.
According to him, the CPI-Maoist’s state leaders and key members of its People’s Liberation Guerilla Army (PLGA) “are still evading arrest and are active”.
The police are also clueless about the whereabouts of top rebel leader and PLGA chief Kishenji, who earlier regularly met journalists and gave phone-ins to television news channels.
“On several occasions we were very close to Kishenji and his close aides but somehow he escaped by a whisker,” said West Midnapore Superintendent of Police Manoj Kumar Verma.
A few months ago the state government announced a rehabilitation policy for surrendering Maoists.
But so far only four hardcore Maoists — Shobhan Karak alias Bijoy, Shobha Mandi alias Sikha, Rumpa Mahato alias Sujata alias Ashtami and Bibhuti Mahato — have given themselves up to police.
At present 37 companies of security forces, including 23 central paramilitary troopers, are deployed in the 21 Maoist-affected police station areas spread over Bankura, Purulia and West Midnapore.
(Sabyasachi Roy can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)