The Mamata Banerjee government’s biggest achievements since coming to power in 2011 was restoration of peace in West Bengal’s Maoist-affected Jangalmahal comprising tribal inhabited forest areas in the districts of West Midnapore, Purulia, Jhargram and parts of Bankura and Birbhum.
After a gap of almost nine years, Maoists are reportedly trying to regroup in the area again as has been indicated by the discovery of posters purportedly put up by red rebels putting the security forces into alert.
After several years, suspected Maoist cadres did a poster campaigning in the area on the eve of Independence Day this year, asking people to observe the occasion as “black day.”
The West Bengal police on September 25 unearthed a cache of arms including about 30 muskets, electric wire and tin containers buried under the ground at a forest in Goaltore area of West Midnapore District.
Investigations were on to ascertain the source of the weapons though police said it was an old consignment as the weapons got rusted.
Following reports of renewed Maoist activities in the area, the state’s director general of police Virendra had earlier this month rushed to Jhargram and West Midnapore districts to take stock of the situation there.
Police, however, said there was no active Maoist squad in the area to cause alarm. “Nevertheless, we are on alert and investigating the latest activities,” said a senior police officer.
Suspicious movements of the rebels ahead of the crucial assembly elections next year in the erstwhile Maoist bastion that sends 32 legislators to the 295-member assembly, however, naturally assumed political significance. More so as the latest developments coincide with the induction of Chhatradhar Mahato, who was once a most prominent face of the Maoist-backed tribal movement in the state, into the ruling Trinamool Congress.
BJP state president Dilip Ghosh alleged that the ruling TMC was trying to spread fear in the Jangalmahal area with the help of Maoists ahead of next year’s Assembly elections.
“The TMC is trying to create an environment of terror because they know they will not win a single seat in the area. After they got a Maoist in the party, posters (of Maoists) started surfacing,” Ghosh claimed, alluding to Mahato’s induction into the TMC.
Since the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP has been making significant inroads into the Bengal’s tribal belt thanks to ashrams and schools run by Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram, an RSS affiliate. In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the saffron party bagged five out of the eight seats in this tribal-dominated area.
The saffron party fears the renewed Maoist activities could upset its applecart in the next year’s polls.
The TMC, on the other hand, rubbishes the allegation that it is trying to use Maoists to regain its lost ground.
It was the TMC which the Maoists flayed in its posters, pointed out Bikash Mahato, a tribal leader of the ruling party. He was referring to the recent posters put up by the Maoists demanding the local TMC leaders to return the money they had taken from the villagers in the name of providing the government’s largesse.
The irony for the TMC is that it was drawing flak for inducting Chhatradhar Mahato, who so far could not even devote his full attention to politics being entangled in a fresh NIA investigation.
Since joining the TMC in July, he has been summoned to appear five to six times before the investigating agency in connection with two decade-old cases of train hijack and murder of a CPI(M) leader.
The central agency on Friday moved a fresh plea in the court, seeking custody of Mahato, but the hearing had to be deferred as the former convenor of a Maoist-backed People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities (PCPA) tested positive for Covid-19.
Already locals fear a spurt in political violence in the area because of the challenge the TMC would face from the BJP in the ensuing elections. The presence of Maoists would further complicate the matter, said Ratanlal Hansda, a senior leader of the Bharat Jakat Majhi Pargana Mahal (BJMPM), an influential apolitical tribal organisation in the state.