Jungal Mahal And Recent 'Peace' Efforts
By Dipankar Chakrabarti
03 February, 2012
Jungalmahal, the most backward region of West Bengal , consisting of the largest parts of the three districts West Medinipur , Bankura and Purulia in the south-west of the state, has been capturing the media headlines since the beginning of the last decade. The region since then has become a hotbed of politically motivated armed conflicts. This process was acutely aggravated during the last five years of the Left Front rule. Though there were expectations that peace will be restored in the region with the departure of that regime, the same tradition has been continuing even in the present Trinamul Congress(TMC)-Congress regime under the almost absolute leadership of Mamata Banerjee. The present government had initiated some efforts for `peace', but till now the net result is a whimper, and the failed effort has rather produced a bitter debate. We want to enter into this debate.
The colonial legacy continues
But first we must have a look at the socio-economic background of Jungalmahal. A large section of the population of the region consists of ` Adivasis ' or tribals and Scheduled Castes. These downtrodden people have been deprived of any effective development endeavour. In terms of development, this region, termed `the Western Region' by the government, is like two sides of the same coin: co-existence of endless rich forests and huge areas of uncultivated lands; or of natural beauty and harsh poverty and deprivation. In six decades of the Indian democracy, the tribals have received their shares only as alienation, exploitation, discrimination, deprivation and dispossession. According to the 2004 Human Development Report of West Bengal, these districts' position was around 14 among all the districts in the state. It is interesting to note that about four decades earlier, in 1961, their position was nearly the same. A few years back, the Panchayat & Rural Development Department of West Bengal government had marked a few thousand villages of the state as `the most backward' on the basis of the census figures and most of them are situated in this region. The Left Front government proved its `seriousness and sincerity' for the development of this region by opening a separate department for Western region development, and till recently none other than Sushanta Ghosh was its minister-in-charge. Sadly, even after a decade no effective development the region has remained a hinterland of poverty as before.
The question of food security in the region is also very relevant for our discussion. Since the death of 5 men belonging to the Shabar tribes out of starvation in village Amlasole in West Medinipur in 2004, the name `Amlasole' has become a synonym for harsh poverty and hunger. There are innumerable ` Amlasoles ' in the region. The features of poverty and backwardness of the region are different from those of other backward regions. 60 to 70% people depend on cultivation. Number of agricultural daily labourers is much more than the marginal and small farmers, wages are low; cultivation is seasonal and totally dependent on rainfall. Consequently, food security depends on this seasonal cultivation. During lean period, food consumption level drops by 30 to 40%. More than 50% people remain almost without food for about 6 months every year. The half hearted and incomplete land reform started by the Left Front government has hardly affected the region. In the Jungalmahal hardly any patta has been issued. Per capita availability of land is high but not usable due to the nature of land and absence of effective water-conservation measures. A big chunk of the tribals have to migrate for livelihood to Namal (low lands) as migrant labourers every year. Centrally sponsored public distribution and pro-poor projects like NREGA, Antyoday and Anaapurna Anna Yojana or the active role of the local panchayats could have partially redressed the problem of food security like Kerala, but wide spread political manipulations have derailed the projects. Thus for sheer survival, the poor have to depend on the `benevolence' of the money-lenders, or go to other regions for work.
Forests are another age-old source of livelihood for the poor. T hanks to the forest department's nexus with criminals, political leaders, police, timber mafias and administration to loot the forests and the flawed path of development, the centuries-old dependence of tribals on forests is threatened. Clusters of tribal villages nestled in the forests got increasingly distanced from forests as such with the speed of deforestation and fake development.
Obviously, just food relief cannot solve the basic problems here. Concrete steps like modification of the nature of land, proper use of cultivable land, steps for water availability and ensuring the forest rights of the people are urgent needs. Also required are effective management of the panchayats in people's interests, expansion of the scope for small and cottage industries as well as proper and not showpiece facilities for education and health to uplift the people of the region from the age-old perpetual backwardness.
The Shifting Sand of Political Equations
It is a paradox of our parliamentary politics that electoral parties take oath to follow `peaceful' methods and yet frequently resort to arms whenever their rule and domination are endangered. Jungalmahal is a glaring example of this phenomenon. In spite of centuries of poverty and deprivation of the people in this region, no massive people's movement has ever developed here since the independence. Even the land movements organized by the Communists during this period in other parts of the state did not significantly spread to these areas. The Naxalites, first the MCC group, and then the People's War group, and finally after their unity, the CPI (Maoist) Party tried to organise the people since the 1980's. Their main emphasis was on armed struggle through individual annihilation, and not building people's movement. Initially they were active around Salboni, Lalgarh, Goaltore, Garbeta and Belpahari. Even the ruling party CPI(M) had to take their armed squads' help to bring the area under CPI(M) control from BJP's influence. In the meantime CPI(M) too managed to develop their own armed squads and naturally they tried to oust the Maoists. The Maoists then tried to maintain their influence with the help of TMC, the new emerging force. The killings in Choto Angaria took place after that. Five Maoist cadres were brutally murdered in a TMC shelter by the CPI(M) armed goons. CPI(M) thereafter imposed their almost absolute domination n the whole area directly with the help of their armed forces, known locally as ` harmads ' and indirectly of the obedient police and administration.
The Maoists, no doubt, are dedicated and self-sacrificing, working for the uplift and liberation of the downtrodden people, though many have serious and reasonable differences with their methods. Their strategy is to select the area as a part of their guerrilla zone mainly by armed actions so that they can develop the people's army and a liberated area. They were able to influence, through their long association with the local people, a sizable section of local people, victim of deprivation and neglect, to join them. Though initially they made some efforts to organise the people based on some of their longstanding economic grievances, most of their organisers were arrested. After wards, due to the dearth of politically conscious able organisers and failure to develop effective mass organisations, their efforts in this respect were not very successful. Rather armed actions bore some fruits in threatening or neutralising the local reactionary forces, and consequently their dependence on armed actions became almost absolute. Since then the regular armed clashes between CPI(M) and the Maoists became the most significant political development in the region. The Maoists mainly operated through their armed squads consisting mainly of the downtrodden people of the areas under their influence and expanded their individual annihilation of CPI(M) cadres or sympathisers . CPI(M) too mainly depended on their armed forces, though publicly they vehemently denied the existence of these forces. Naturally they got immense help from the police and administration. Anyone refusing to accept their hegemony used to be termed `Maoists' and the police obediently arrested them with 'non - bailable' fictitious charges, so that they are forced to spend years and years behind the bars. It is tragic that the main victims of these armed actions by both the feuding sides are poor and belong to exploited classes.
Since 2006 an almost unprecedented popular upsurge against government's pro-corporate land-grab swept West Bengal starting with Singur, and then spreading to Nandigram. Realising that their life and occupation are threatened in the name of ‘development', the downtrodden have stood up and built up massive protest movements, practically not led by any party or individual, but of their own initiative. The major sections of the civil society too stood by them. The CPI(M) controlled Left Front government was simply cornered and even forsaken by their erstwhile ardent supporters in the rural areas, as evident in the Panchayat elections of 2008. Sensing correctly the protest and anger of the people, TMC, the main opposition party in the state came forward to collect the fruits of this mass upsurge under the leadership of Mamata Banerjee. In order to resist the CPI(M)'s armed retaliation in Nandigram, TMC had to take the help of the Maoist squads. Thereby started some sort of understanding between TMC and the Maoists against CPI(M) onslaughts which also spread to an extent to Jungalmahal .
Just then, a new situation emerged after the Maoists' blasted a landmine during the return journey of the Chief Minister of West Bengal from Salboni, post the inauguration of a steel plant of the Jindals. T he police went on a rampage in the adjacent tribal villages and unleashed a reign of terror in 35 villages encompassing the entire tribal belt of Lalgarh. They tortured and arrested innocent people and charged them with sundry charges including waging war against the state, conspiracy, attempt to murder, using dangerous weapons and obstructing justice. In the process, they brutally beat up Lakshmi, and she had to be hospitalised. During night raids, many women were brutally kicked & beaten with lathis and butts of guns. Chitamani Murmu's eye was blinded after being hit by a gun butt. These police brutalities soon reached a point where the tribals had no other option but to rise up in revolt. A long oppressed people rose up and dared to confront their oppressors. Road blocks were erected spontaneously, and subsequently a People's Committee Against Police Atrocities (PCAPA) was formed, consisting of people of different political opinions including the Maoist cadres and sympathisers. The blockade continued until the first week of December, when Government had to negotiate with the Committee. For seven months, the Government withdrew all administration in the area. It was a great victory of the people. Primarily, the people's demands were mainly against state-oppression, but subsequently new demands were included against dispossession and marginalization of tribals from their land, forests and water in the name of development. The movement was spontaneous and spread to other areas, not only in Jungalmahal , but also in other parts of the state, reminiscent of the Santal Mutiny of the 1850's.
The Maoist Blueprint
The Maoists operating in the area had a different plan. They wanted to utilise the uprising to create an area where the absolute rule of the Maoist Party and their squads would be established. The Maoists had no regard for the tradition and culture of the Adivasi samaj. Their political strategy itself was a great divider. Many sympathisers of the Lalgarh movement were aware of the derailment of a genuine and unique mass movement by the Maoists in pursuance of their blueprint. But at the same time, the Maoists had been able to attract the attention of the downtrodden people to their exploitation and deprivation, to the basic economic system responsible for their perpetual backwardness. The people naturally appreciated their support against the ruling party-government nexus, and were ready to accept them as their natural ally had there been no excess of extortion and bloodshed, frequently for flimsy and dubious `crimes'. After the partial withdrawal of the State forces, the armed squads of the Maoists were the only armed forces in the area. Of course, there were CPI(M) squads in nearby areas. Between 2009 and 2010, more than 300 activists and supporters of CPI(M) were killed, almost all of them being poor Adivasis . In some cases, the killings were committed with utmost brutality and the families of the dead were prevented from lifting and cremating the dead bodies. Some were threatened with dire consequences in case of any opposition. The broad democratic nature of the movement was thus ruined. The Maoists virtually pursued the CPI(M) policy to wipe out all other social or political opposition through threatening, insults and armed actions, even murders. Consequently the Maoists began to lose popular support since the people of Jungalmahal did not accept the politics of violence beyond a tolerable limit. This ‘hijacking' of the tribal and non-tribal people's resistance movement against police atrocities by the Maoists and its projection as their own creation and under their absolute control, as well as the series of killing by them naturally deprived the movement of the massive support of the civil society, though in the initial phase of the Lalgarh movement it stood by the movement. The State, on its part was just waiting for a convenient moment to step in and label everything to do with Lalgarh as Maoist and arrest its leaders.
The opportunity was provided by the central government, which banned the Maoists' movement and started the `Operation Green Hunt' by sending Joint Forces of the Central government's para - military forces and the State Armed Police with the concurrence of the CPI(M) controlled state government of West Bengal . The draconian black act UAPA was indiscriminately used by them, flouting the promise of the Left Front government s before Buddhadev Bhattacharya's Chief Ministership of not using the draconian Central government acts in West Bengal (only with two exceptions of using TADA during the 1980's). PCAPA was virtually banned, its leader Chatradhar Mahato and a few others were arrested, and ludicrous charges were raised, though none of them found any place in the charge sheets. The PCAPA activists, being marked by the joint forces as terrorists, were hounded regularly and the forces made their life miserable. Even the ordinary innocent people were simply persecuted, tortured and arrested on flimsy grounds, and the women sexually abused by the joint forces, obviously with the active help of the CPI(M) cadres and their ‘harmad' forces. In the face of this joint operation, the Maoists tried their best to mobilise the people for a mass resistance. When the joint armed forces started their campaign, only the advanced sections and cadres of the Maoists were ready for some resistance with landmines, which were not very effective against the onslaught of the state. The villagers fled their villages and took shelter in the surrounding villages. Not only the Civil Right activists, but also a large section of the civil society began to oppose these draconian measures, and demand the release of PCAPA leaders and withdraw joint forces.
Mamata Banerjee: Pre-poll and Post- poll Doublespeak
In the meantime, the West Bengal Assembly elections becoming imminent, a new political equation began to develop in the state. TMC, under Mamata Banerjee, sailing on the waves of the mass upheavals of Singur, Nandigram etc and basically usurping the fruits of those movements, began to emerge as a prospective alternative force to CPI(M). Already in the previous two elections of Panchayat and Parliament, a clear indication in this respect became evident. It was essential for TMC to win a sizable number of the assembly seats in Jungalmahal to materialise this possibility where even in 2009 CPI(M) managed to retain its seats. Consequently the understanding between TMC and the Maoists against CPI(M) onslaughts that developed in Nandigram, and spread to a certain extent to Jungalmahal through the participation of TMC supporters in PCPA activities, was felt to be renewed and broadened, so that the public anger against the joint forces could be translated into votes. Kishenji, the top Maoist leader, openly expressed his wish of seeing Mamata as the next Chief Minister of West Bengal . In spite of some mutual misgivings, both sides came together against CPI(M). Mamata in her election campaigns repeatedly emphasised on the necessity to have a dialogue with the Maoists. In her much talked about meeting at Jhargram in August 2010, she made promises to withdraw joint forces from Jungalmahal and to release all political prisoners unconditionally. She also demanded the release of the PCPA leaders including Chatradhar Mahato, and judicial enquiry into the alleged fake encounter death of the Maoist top leader Azad. The pledge to ‘suppress state terror' was included in the TMC election manifesto. In fact, in the whole state of West Bengal the last assembly election was a revolt against CPI(M)'s autocracy and suppression of democracy, and the majority of the people cast their ‘negative' votes for TMC and Mamata with the sole objective of ending the CPI(M) rule. The TMC-Congress alliance swept the Assembly polls in May 2011 and Mamata, as expected, became the new Chief Minister.
Basically Mamata Banerjee was an inheritor of the political ideology of the Congress. The main architects of the Congress autocracy of the 1970's, especially the dark days during the Emergency, were her mentors. She follows a domineering method of leadership to control her organisation as well as political movements of her party. The election fulfilled her long-cherished dream of becoming the Chief Minister of West Bengal . She was ready to go to any extent to achieve that goal. She skillfully hegemonised the oppositional space in Singur and Nandigram movements and plucked the fruits. She did not even hesitate to utter leftist slogans since then and take a public posture against suppression of democracy. She skillfully gathered a large number of leading artists, writers and intellectuals, and consequently built a halo around her.
However, after her remarkable victory in the assembly polls Mamata Banerjee began to reveal her true self. She wanted the Maoists to play a second fiddle to her party in Jungalmahal. The Maoists were obviously not ready to oblige , since that would go against their strategy to make it a part of their guerilla zone. Consequently, their earlier mutual misgivings gave rise to serious contradictions. She refused to keep her pre-election pledges, on the basis of which rested their mutual understanding. Her Government rejected the demands for unconditional release of all political prisoners, immediate withdrawal of joint forces from Jungale mahal and public announcement on non-enforcement of the draconian central law, the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act. But peace in Jungle Mahal was the aspiration of the people, and they expected the Mamata Government to take concrete and effective steps to that end. With Mamata's volte-face, the possibility of restoring peace began to fade.
Schisms in Pro-Change Civil society and Role of ‘Peace Talk' Mediators
Most of the human rights activists including many intellectuals and activists who directly or indirectly supported Mamata's call for ‘ Parivartan '(change of regime) now began to oppose her changed stand. Mamata responded to the situation in her inimitable way. She assembled a few pro-changers, who actively took part in the last election campaign in her favour, and who enjoyed the trust of the Maoists and PCAPA. She requested them to help her to bring peace to Jungalmahal. A six-member team of interlocutors was formed on July 7 under her care and guidance. Their approach was reflected in a joint statement (` a kind of under-standing', according to one of the interlocutors) , signed by the Home secretary on behalf of the West Bengal Government and the six interlocutors on behalf of a so-called ` Nagarik Samaj ' (Civil Society). The team included two prominent human rights activists; though they did not represent their respective organisations (Rather that statement was unanimously opposed and condemned in the South Bengal Annual General meeting of the most familiar civil rights organisation in the state). T he statement promised a special package for economic and social development of Jungalmahal and rights to forest dwellers, and asked all sides to ‘hold fire'. On the question of withdrawal of the joint forces from Jungalmahal , it merely parroted the Government stand that they would be withdrawn only after Jungalmahal becomes free of arms and peace restored. It appealed to the Maoists for talks ‘to create a democratic atmosphere free from fear and terror', and reflected the government's strategy to entice the Maoist rank-and-file to surrender arms. It promised not to be ‘revengeful to those who would wish to surrender arms' and offered them ‘financial package and social rehabilitation' (though the connection between promises of not being revengeful during arms surrender and ‘impartiality' of the interlocutors was not clear to many). The statement also assured to investigate the incidents of ‘atrocities and injustice perpetrated during the earlier regime, on the basis of specific complaints' (No mention of investigations regarding atrocities during the current regime!).
No one can deny that a conducive atmosphere must be created before the start of any sincere peace efforts. And in the existing circumstances this could only be created only by keeping the pre-election promises of Mamata Banerjee, like release of all political prisoners including Chatradhar Mahato and withdrawal of all cases registered against them; withdrawal of joint forces from Jungalmahal; and immediate stoppage of indiscriminate arrests and illegal detention of the people by the joint forces. It is utter imbecility to assume that without the fulfillment of at least some of these pre-conditions, the essential conducive atmosphere could be created.
The Question of Releasing Political Prisoners
Besides, the two prominent human rights activists among those interlocutors have already lost the confidence of almost all the civil rights activists and members of civil society due to their blatant opposition to the emerging movement for the unconditional release of the political prisoners. If we look back, in a similar situation in 1977, the very first resolution adopted in the very first Cabinet meeting of the first Left Front government was to release all political prisoners, in keeping with their pre-election promise. Later, due to bureaucratic bungling and interference by the Central government the process of release was being delayed. When the civil rights activists took to streets demanding the hastening of the process, the then Chief Minister Jyoti Basu took immediate steps, and ultimately all the political prisoners were released. Though the same Government later turned into an autocratic rule, this truth cannot be wiped out. However, the above referred two interlocutors just tried to do that and advocated dependence on the Government in lieu of people's movement. This ‘absolute' faith on Mamata Banerjee's benevolence might have endeared them to her, but almost proportionately, the civil society increased their distance. There was another reason behind this loss of confidence on the interlocutors. Their main spokesperson is also a member of the government constituted review committee for the release of political prisoners, and he should have been alerted from his experience of that committee. The Government imposed insulting conditions (‘ muchleka ' or undertaking in the real sense of the term) for the release of the political prisoners. Just on that ground, any self-respecting person should have protested and if necessary, resigned from the committee, but the members kept mum. T hey initially recommended the release of 78 political prisoners, but the government curtailed it down to 52. The later list included two Maoists along with 50 others of KLO. Though the Chief Minister herself announced her move to release 52 out of those 78 prisoners before Independence Day 2011, only 15 non-Maoist prisoners have been freed so far, but not a single Maoist has been released. The names of two Maoist prisoners have been struck from the list owing to the pressure of the central Home ministry. Incidentally, in 1977 too, the Central Home ministry opposed the release of the prisoners with charges of violence, but the Left Front government refused to pay heed to that objection, since law and order is a state subject. Notwithstanding this submissive stand of the ‘fearless' Chief Minister of West Bengal, the committee has also recommended the release of some other prisoners and political status for Chhatradhar Mahato and his close comrades. No recommendation has yet been fulfilled. In many cases, the public prosecutors in lower courts opposed bail petitions of many political prisoners. Had the members of the Review Committee the minimum self-respect, they should have resigned in protest. Alas, that is not to be!
It was also evident from their previously mentioned 7 July statement that they have completely forgotten the basic demands raised by them during the previous Left Front rule. Naturally, the peace efforts had a very shaky start. Afte r the death of the top Maoist leader Kishenji in November in an alleged fake encounter, the interlocutors came to realise the futility of their efforts and they were virtually forced to disassociate them from the so called peace efforts. But they have neither the moral authority of widespread respect and confidence nor the basic honesty of K.G. Kannabiran, the leading mediator in the failed Andhra talks between the Maoists and the Andhra Government. He publicly declared after the failure of the Andhra talks “We (interlocutors) unwittingly played a treacherous role in believing the bonafide of the government”.
The Stillborn Peace Process: Who Are To Be Blamed?
According to the main spokesperson of the interlocutors, they had accepted their assignment because of the government's sincerity recognising the political nature of the conflict and its repeated insistence on opening of dialogue and bringing peace. They also boasted of their own fight against the misdeeds of the Left Front government , though we shall presently see that they have forgotten how to fight under the new regime. To learn swimming one is supposed to go into water. The tragedy is that these interlocutors have not even tried to learn how to swim! That is why in all their uttering in TV channels or in writing after the failure of the peace efforts, they basically tried to guard and defend the Mamata Government, and put all the blame on the bureaucracy, a section of the media and the Maoists. It is their own fault that they were not ‘aware' of the machinations of the bureaucracy nor of the servility of most of the media to the power that rules. So far as the Maoists are concerned, no doubt, they have to bear a part of the responsibility, since they refused to take into account Mamata's massive mandate, the shifting allegiance of the anti-CPM forces and sympathisers in the PCAPA and also the mood of the changing public opinion. They indulged in killings while the dialogue was on, thereby vitiating the process. Their erroneous tactics of mainly depending on armed actions and annihilation and neglecting mass movements have cost them a lot and they have lost a sizable section of their sympathizers, thereby harming the cause of liberation of the downtrodden people. The dichotomy in the Maoist position on political freedom as they considered it legitimate for them but refused to extend it to their rivals including parliamentary parties also went against them.
That the government was primarily to be blamed for the failure was not unknown to the outsiders, not to speak of the interlocutors. We have noted the Government's failure to create an atmosphere conducive to the start of peace talks. The Government had simply ignored the July 2011 charter of the PCAPA. The charter included the demand for a judicial probe into the fake encounter deaths of its leaders, release of jailed comrades and punishment of police officers who had committed atrocities on tribal women during the earlier regime. It also listed the demands for genuine autonomy for the region, developmental priorities and people's vigilance on the flow of funds, freedom to continue the PCAPA led development activities as well as recovery of vested and tribal land allotted to others like the Jindal group for their steel plant. In her first public meetings on July 12 in Jungalmahal, Mamata instead tried to entice the people by announcing distribution of subsidised rice for the poor, distribution of cycles for female schoolchildren and promises on developmental projects like roads, bridges, schools and colleges. We have had a brief look of the socio-economic conditions in Jungalmahal and noted that concrete steps regarding modification of the nature of land, proper use of cultivable land, steps for water availability and ensuring the forest rights of the people etc are urgently needed, which were not at all referred to by the CM in her speech. Naturally, real upliftment of the people from the pit of perpetual backwards remains a far cry, even if all of her announcements are fulfilled. She also declared the government's plan to distribute subsidised food from police stations and BDO offices, the erstwhile-centres of exploitation and repression, and consequently of hatred, to the people. She promised a rehabilitation package to those who would surrender. The Maoists and the civil society were most upset with her call to the local youth to ‘take up arms for the government and the country'. Finally, a befitting climax was her announcement that 10,000 special police constables would be recruited from Jungalmahal, clearly imitating the efforts of the Chhattisgarh Government to raise anti-insurgent armed force also known as special police officers. The experienced interlocutors did not utter a single word against these autocratic declarations clearly standing in the way of a fruitful dialogue for peace.
One-party Rule: TMC Swapped role with the CPI(M)
Not only that, one of the interlocutors later confessed (see Frontier ) that “ Maoists had alleged that the TMC led Bhairab Bahini like Harmads of the CPI(M) had been terrorising the people. Some disturbing news indeed came to our knowledge. Under the nose of the new government, the TMC leadership, with the help of the new converts, became super-active to seize (‘ Dakha l' politics) political space in the area totally''. Maoists requested them to make enquiries. They brought these to the notice of the Chief Minister, but she denied those allegations and asked us to give concrete evidence''.
Let us first see what were the allegations raised not only by the Maoists, but also by large number of people of Jungalmahal . That there was not a single killing by the Maoists for a month since 30 September 2011 , the day the interlocutors signed the joint declaration for ‘cessation' of arms, has been stated by the interlocutors themselves. However, it was alleged that the police and joint forces were not sitting idle. They were raiding villages, chasing and harassing villagers and preventing them from collecting sal leaves and firewood for their sustenance. Side by side, the new repressive vigilante armed squads formed by the TMC youth, called the `Bhairab Bahini', began to openly operate in the area just in the style of CPI(M)'s ` Harmad Bahini'. They were moving with sophisticated weapons with the forces in plain clothes and exhorting protection money from the people, branding anyone opposing their demand as ‘Maoists' and handing them over to the police. The district administration too played a subservient role by imposing an unwritten ban on the constitutional rights of the people to democratic assembly and freedom of expression. Since the first week of September, the forces arrested nearly 80 persons. On October 21, the Lodha Sabar Kalyan Samiti complained before the Paschim Medinipur District Magistrate that in the name of search operations, the police and joint forces are torturing innocent people, as a result of which 16 Sabar families in Aulgeria village have been forced to leave their village. This incident perhaps played a role, at least psychologically, behind the ‘sudden' outburst of Mahasveta Devi against the Government in the press conference of APDR. On October 26, it was alleged that at village Patasol in the Goaltor area, the house of Gopal Pandey was looted by the Bhairab Bahini , and when he escaped, his mother, wife and daughter(nine years) were threatened. The police, obviously took no action. Again, t welve students, belonging to the student organisations Jharkhand Student Federation (JSF), Chatrasamaj and USDF, who had been campaigning in the villages regarding a convention which they were holding in Kolkata, were picked up by the joint forces from a house where they were staying near Jhargram, brutally beaten up and handed over to Jhargram police.
On October15, Mamata Banerjee attended a public meeting at Jhargram where she condemned the Maoists as ‘Mafia' and ` supari -killers', for their involvement in the murder of a TMC leader. But just on the previous day, joint forces and police forces raided the house of Sushen Singha in village Shushnijobi under Belpahari P.S. to arrest him. He was not at home, and the police and the joint forces alleged to have humiliated and raped her wife Shibani. Unable to bear such indignity, Shibani consumed poison to end her life. She was taken first to Belpahari Block health centre and then to Jhargram hospital in an unconscious state. The Jhargram SP, Gaurav Misra, refused to hand over the medical report to the members of the victim's family. Thanks to the efforts of the physicians, Shibani could regain her consciousness and on her complaints, her family members registered an FIR at the Jhargram SP's office when the Belpahari P.S. refused to do so, on flimsy grounds. That news was out in the media on the day of her meeting at Jhargram. She simply brushed away the charge of rape and called it a frame up case, based on police reports (people have not forgotten the incident during the LF regime, when Mamata herself was dragged away forcibly by the police from Writers' Buildings for bringing the rape case of Chapala Sardar to the fore!).T he interlocutors ‘couldn't ' enquire about these allegations, however serious they might be , since they ‘did not have that infrastructure'. The cat is out of the bag. Even if allegations raised by one side of the dispute are not properly addressed to, or simply neglected on the plea of lack of infrastructure, can the interlocutors morally claim to be ‘impartial' and dialogue really proceed?
The Mediators Must be Circumspect about Their Roles
No, it cannot and that is why the dialogue failed, and the ‘peace-efforts' of the Government ended, at least for the time being. There is no necessity of a blame game, for both the sides, mainly the government and partially the Maoists are responsible for this failure. The interlocutors, to quote again the respected civil rights activist Kannabiran, consciously or unconsciously ‘ played a treacherous role in believing the bonafide of the government'. People aspire for peace, but for that the Government must first create a conducive atmosphere for peace efforts. They must approach the ‘Maoist problem' not as a law and order problem, but as a human and developmental one, as recommended by the Experts Committee formed by the central government in 2008. Some bouts of relief and doles to the exploited Adivasis of Jungalmahal cannot uplift their lot; rather it is essential to take concrete steps regarding solving the basic problems which are at the roots of their backwardness. Otherwise, the same Mamata Banerjee who was so vocal in demanding judicial enquiry regarding the fake encounter death of Azad will again and again have to justify the role of her armed forces in the cases of alleged fake encounter deaths of many Kishenjis under her rule.
The Maoist Mistakes
The Maoists must take into cognizance the ground reality. They should ponder over the desertion of other anti-CPI(M) forces from their side as well as large number of their cadres and sympathisers . They also need to be circumspect about their gradual isolation from the civil society and the common people in the wake of their excessive dependence on armed action and autocratic control over the mass organisations. Moreover, mediators or ‘interlocutors' should be those who are not self declared ‘representatives of the civil society', nor some familiar names or TV talk show participants, but respected persons who are consistent and enjoy confidence of the people.
Or else, peace in Jungalmahal will remain a cry in the wild.
Dipankar Chakrabarti is the founder-editor of a monthly Bengali Marxist journal aneek, being published regularly since 1964, originally from West Bengal, India. The journal is a socio-political one, devoting also to economic and cultural aspects as well as to civil rights. He was behind the bars without trial for about 2 years during the infamous Emergency period (1975-77) during Indira Gandhi's regime for opposing the anti-people Government policies, especially India 's annexation of Sikim.
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