June 20, 2009

Troops enter Maoist stronghold

LALGARH, 20th JUNE: Indian troops entered a Maoist stronghold in West Bengal state on Saturday as they tried to end a rebellion by the left-wing activists who have taken control of hundreds of villages.

Security personnel met little resistance as they moved into the town of Lalgarh, 130 kilometres (80 miles) from Kolkata, Manoj Verma, police superintendent of West Midnapur district, told mediapersons."Our forces have reached Lalgarh police station. It was a smooth march to Lalgarh through the forests," Verma said.

West Bengal home secretary Ardhendu Sen said troops had gained a foothold in Lalgarh but clearing the whole area under rebel control -- comprising more than 1,000 square kilometres (386 square miles) -- would take time.

The advance on Lalgarh was slow as the security forces had been fired on overnight, Praveen Kumar, a senior West Bengal police officer, said."Our men had to progress through a heavily mined forest," he said. "Bridges and culverts bombed by Maoists rebels left the roads impassable for four-wheeled vehicles."

About 1,800 state and federal troops have been deployed to quell the uprising that began one week ago when Maoists and tribal villagers went on the rampage against the state's ruling Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M).Police say 10 CPI(M) activists had been killed by Thursday and that security camps and party offices have also been burnt down.

Authorities have airdropped pamphlets appealing for villagers to cooperate with the security forces.The Maoist insurgency, which grew out of a peasant uprising in 1967, has hit 15 of India's 29 states. The rebels say they are fighting for the rights of neglected tribespeople and landless farmers.

“Our party wanted to kill West Bengal's chief minister”

Kolkata: June 19, 2009 06:44 IST

Security forces on Thursday, June 18, moved into the restive Lalgarh region in West Bengal's Midnapore district to end the three-day siege led by the Communist Party of India (Maoist).The Communist Party of India (Maoist) went on a rampage targeting Communist Party of India-Marxist cadres and leaders, destroying their homes and party offices and setting up barricades to block the police and Central Reserve Police Force's entry.

As the country awaits a solution to the Lalgarh crisis, rediff.com's Indrani Roy Mitra caught up with Gour Chakraborty, the CPI (Maoist)'s spokesman, late on Thursday night. The party came into being in September 2004 through the merger of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist), the People's War Group and the Maoist Communist Centre of India. The merger was announced on October 14 the same year.

QUESTION: What led to the Lalgarh violence?

Chakraborty: Every act of violence has its roots in torture and repression. Be it the French Revolution, Russian Revolution, Santhal movement or Tebhaga movement, all uprisings resulted from popular discontent.Tribals of Lalgarh have suffered for years. They have been tortured and insulted by the ruling Left Front and the police. What is happening at Lalgarh is nothing but an explosion of tribals' pent-up grievances.

Lalgarh, if you remember, has been on the boil since last November when a landmine exploded near Bhadutala on the route of the convoy of West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and then central ministers Ram Vilas Paswan and Jiten Prasada.The ministers were returning after laying the foundation of a steel plant in Salboni.

Soon after, the police launched a massive combing operation and arrested local school students and harassed tribal women.In protest, angry tribals in and around Lalgarh dug up roads, virtually cutting off Lalgarh from the rest of Midnapore.They also demanded a public apology from the police for the alleged excesses against them.The area has witnessed continuous clashes since then.

QUESTION: Hinting at a state within a state, tribal leader Chhatradhar Mahato of the People's Committee Against Police Atrocities said on Thursday his organisation could build infrastructure in just eight months in Lalgarh? Is it true?

Chakraborty: Absolutely. Though the PCAPA is an infant organisation, it has a mission to better the lives of the tribals.The PCAPA is fighting for the tribals's cause, it is seeking justice for them.Like the PCAPA, we too are against violence. But what is happening in Lalgarh is the outburst of the people who have been suffering for the last 32 years.

QUESTION: It is being alleged that you are using women and children as shields.

Chakraborty: This is utter nonsense. We are not using women and children as shields. Hundreds and thousands of tribal women have come out in the open spontaneously, shouting slogans against the police and the administration.They are walking in tandem with us.

QUESTION: How do you justify the loss of so many innocent lives? Why are you killing policemen? They are just doing their jobs.
Chakraborty: We are orchestrating a revolution at Lalgarh. Can you cite an instance where a revolution took place without bloodshed? Our motive is not to take innocent lives.We just want to resist coercion and police atrocities. To counter force, we have to combat and resort to violence.We really feel sorry for those who get martyred in the process, but we can't help it.
QUESTION: The security forces are on their way to free Lalgarh. Are you equipped enough to resist them?

Chakraborty: One should not underestimate us. We know our strength and weaknesses. We are also aware how strong our 'enemies' are.

QUESTION: You mean your cache of arms and ammunition is huge enough.

Chakraborty: I am not supposed to talk about it. But do remember, we are strong enough to put up a brave fight.

QUESTION: The CPI-M is alleging that the Trinamool Congress is giving you tacit approval. Is it true?

Chakraborty: No, not at all. The Trinamool Congress did seek our support in its fight against the CPI-M in Nandigram.But (Trinamool chief) Mamata Banerjee had only wanted to use Nandigram as a tool to win elections. That was her ulterior motive.

QUESTION: Ms Banerjee recently stated that your party is an offshoot of the Communist Party of India-Marxist.

Chakraborty: As I told you, Mamata Banerjee used Nandigram as an election plank. She used it as a pawn for her party to win Lok Sabha seats. She claims to be against special economic zones. Then why didn't she stand by us in our movement against the Jindal group's planned SEZ in Salboni area? Also, her demand to the Tatas to free 400 acres of land lacked clarity. She should have demanded the entire 1,000 acres. Therefore, we refuse to give any importance to what she says about us.

QUESTION: As we all know, West Bengal saw a huge political change in the recent Lok Sabha polls. The change occurred through a democratic process. Why don't you tread the same path to bring about the so-called transformation?

Chakraborty:The Left Front government has been emerging winner in every election for the last three decades. What has it done for the state of West Bengal? What has it done for the tribals of Lalgarh? Nothing.Which democracy are you talking about?

QUESTION: In a recent press conference, one of your colleagues, Bikash, said that the people of Lalgarh want West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee dead. The landmine blast that narrowly missed the chief minister's car last November was an attempt on his life. Would you like to comment on it?

Chakraborty: On August 14, 2004, Dhananjoy Chatterjee, a rapist and a murderer, was hanged to death in Kolkata.The incident brought to an end Chatterjee's 14-year-long legal battle to escape the noose, as human rights groups held protests outside the Alipore Central Jail against the capital punishment. Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and his wife Meera had then reasoned why a rapist and a murderer like Chatterjee should be hanged. Bhattacharjee's government has killed hundreds of people, raped countless women during its tenure.Therefore, may I ask why should he escape capital punishment?

QUESTION: You regret that your party missed its target in November?

Chakraborty: Of course. Our party wanted to kill Bhattacharjee. It failed in its mission. We have every reason to regret. Think of the French Revolution, it was popular force that had brought down a corrupt monarchy. The kings and the queens were guillotined. History tells us that at times, the crooked and the greedy need to be eliminated.

QUESTION: You are the publicist of your party. Your task is to convey the CPI (Maoist)'s messages to the people. Who are your colleagues who actually carry out these attacks?

Chakraborty:The attacks that we plan are carried out by People's Guerilla Army. PGA members act clandestinely. They move in the dark of the night and launch surprise attacks on our enemies. Once PGA members's skills reach the optimum level, their group is rechristened the People's Liberation Army and is considered empowered enough to take on the enemies head on.
QUESTION: Can the Lalgarh incident be compared to the Naxalite movement?

Chakraborty: It will be improper to compare the two. The Naxalite movement had a different context. What is happening in Lalgarh is the tribals' way of resisting police atrocities. It's their method of saying, 'Enough is enough'. Those involved with the Naxalite movement had a different motive altogether.

QUESTION: Your party has called a bandh in Bihar, Orissa, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Chattisgarh on June 22 and 23. Could you clearly spell out your party's demands?

Chakraborty: We want the entire Lalgarh to be a liberated zone for the tribals. We want them to have a democracy of their own, a democracy that will be guided by a new and free economy. We have three-point demands: Central and state forces must be withdrawn from the entitre jangalmahal; the state government must officially apologise to the tribals for its torture and misbehaviour and it should immediately put an end to police atrocities.Violence in Lalgarh will continue unless our demands are met.

Security forces resume advance to Lalgarh

Pirakata (WB), Jun 19(PTI): After foiling resistance by Maoist-backed tribals, security forces today resumed their push cautiously towards Lalgarh, a stronghold of the ultras, sweeping the roads for mines as the agitators blew up a bridge to stall their movement.The forces moved out from Pirakata where they had halted for the night and resumed the march towards Lalgarh, 26 km from here, in a pincer movement from Pirrakuli and Sarenda in adjacent Bankura district, a senior police officer said.
They used mine detectors to sweep the roads and forests before driving ahead in heavy vehicles from Pirrakuli, 10 km from here.An IAF helicopter made a sortie over Lalgarh, where Maoist leaders, including a key functionary Kisanji, were believed to be holed up, dropping leaflets asking the people not to allow themselves to be used as human shields.
The tribals under the People's Committee Against Police Atrocities blocked all the roads leading to Lalgarh which has come under their control with the police having withdrawn from camps earlier fearing capture of their weapons.Roads at Dahijuri and Dherua were dug up and trees felled to obstruct the advance by armed police and Central security forces, while a bridge over a river at Binpur was blown up, the police official said.The security forces planned to set up base camps at Goaltore, Salboni and Jhargram, besides in Pirakata, he said.

'Naxals other than those of West Bengal unit present in Lalgarh'

Lalgarh/Ranchi (PTI): Groups of Left-wing extremists, which have taken control over almost 50 villages in Lalgarh, consist not only of cadres operating in West Bengal but also from neighbouring Jharkhand and Orissa, Central security agency sources said.

"There are ample inputs suggesting that the Lalgarh operation of the ultras did not take all of a sudden. A slow build up was happening from much earlier. The West Bengal Naxal units are being assisted by those from the neighbouring Jharkhand and Orissa also," sources said.

Pointing out that there was nothing new in Jharkhand-based Naxals operating in West Bengal, they said in earlier incidents, Maoists after carrying out a major attack in Jharkhand use to cross over to West Bengal, which they considered as "safe heaven".

Sources said the Naxals, who are now using women and children as human shields to prevent state and central forces from entering the villages, are also heavily armed. "As per inputs, many of them are carrying AK-47. It is only senior Naxals of commandant level who carry such guns.Even top executive members of the CPI (Maoists) are also present in the area," the sources said.

They, however, said it is unlikely that the senior Naxals would stay put in the area and take on the forces directly."They would most probably withdraw and leave the fight to the local units and the villagers," sources said.Jharkhand police sources said they have been contemplating the possibility of a joint operation with their West Bengal counterparts for over a year but without any success.

"We know that Naxals who operate in Jharkhand keep moving into West Bengal. We are still hopeful that joint or a coordinated operation could be undertaken to take on the extremists," the sources said.The Union Home Ministry has already sent a total of 16 companies (1,600 personnel) including an all-women company to the state to tackle the Lalgarh situation besides about 120 personnel of the elite anti-Naxal force CoBRA.

Maoists pool in resources for Operation Lalgarh

19 Jun 2009, 0311 hrs IST, Sandeep Mishra & Sonali Das, TIMES OF INDIA

Money from Jharkhand, weapons from Orissa, cadres from Chhattisgarh and leadership from Andhra Pradesh. The Maoists' strategy seems to be clear. And the next big target for them is apparently the place where it had all started over four decades back: West Bengal. If police well-versed with Naxalite operations are to be believed, the ongoing bloodletting at Lalgarh in West Bengal is part of a detailed plan to expand Maoist dominance. "As it appears, the Maoists have decided to revive violence in a big way in West Bengal. And might be thinking of creating a liberated zone' encompassing northern Orissa, parts of Jharkhand and Lalgarh and its neighbourhood in West Bengal, akin to the one they have been striving to set up in the southernmost parts of Orissa, parts of Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh," observed a senior police officer. "In the latter case, the Maoists' presence is huge. While Abusmad in Bastar region of Chhattisgarh serves as the Maoist nerve centre, Malkangiri in Orissa and Khammam in AP are under in their grip," the officer said. "The extremists are strong in parts of Jharkhand and have stepped up their offensives in the Similipal forest area of Mayurbhanj and Sundargarh districts of Orissa. While Mayurbhanj borders West Bengal, Sundargarh borders parts of Jharkhand. By launching a series of attacks in Lalgarh, the ultras might be working on dominating an area spread over Orissa, Jharkhand and West Bengal. This is to some extent evident from the manner in which they are launching attacks in quick succession in different states possibly to prevent the policemen from helping their counterparts in other states," he added. Take the example of Jharkhand. The spurt in violence over the past 10 days which saw 25 policemen killed and an almost equal number of weapons including Insas rifles and SLRs looted has raised suspicions that this was preparation for Operation Lalgarh. Though Orissa Police is not sure about how Orissa-based Maoists are helping their counterparts in Lalgarh, sources said in all probability arms looted by extremists from the state could have found their way into Bengal. "The central committee of the outlawed CPI (Maoist) decided how the looted arms and ammunition is to be distributed. Over the past few years, the radicals' aim has been to loot maximum weapons and explosives from Orissa. Ergo, there is every possibility that those might have been sent to other states," sources in the know disclosed. The ultras had in February 2004 looted the district armoury in Koraput district, while in February 2008, they took away around 1,100 arms and truckloads of ammunition from police establishments in Nayagarh district. Recently, the Maoists had looted large quantity of explosives from Nalco mines in the Damanjodi area of Koraput. Jharkhand police say that the Maoist sphere of influence stretches across state borders and nothing can be gained by talking of Moaists from Bengal or Jharkhand. "It is naive to say that Maoists from Jharkhand have crossed over to spread violence in Lalgarh," said IG S N Pradhan. Pradhan was reacting to Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee's statement that Maoists from Jharkhand were causing trouble in Bengal. "Is CPI(Maoist) leader in Belpahari, Rahulji, from Jharkhand?" he asked sarcastically. Jharkhand Police says that the Maoist corridor stretches from Pashupati in Nepal to Tirupati down south. "The Nayagarh incident in Orissa shows how Maoists from all over the country had congregated to kill 13 policemen and a civilian in a gunbattle. The Maoists have a limited guerrilla cadre and whenever a full strength is needed, they get together from all over the country," police said. In the last week of May, the Chakulia police in the Ghatshila subdivision of West Singbhum district, bordering Purulia and West Midnapore in Bengal, had to push back members of the Maoist-backed People's Committee against Police Atrocities (PCPA). Police also detained 11 PCPA women's wing members after which hundreds of PCPA men, women and children with traditional arms lay siege close to the police station. This was followed by a series of landmine blasts and ambushes,with the Maoists almost capturing the coal city of Phusro in Bermo block of Bokaro district, where they killed 10 policemen in a landmine blast and looted rifles. The killings continued at Goelkera in West Singbhum, Khunti and Palamu. With the Lalgarh operation beginning only days later, questions are being raised on whether the incidents here were a prelude to the final operation. Jharkhand Police, however, is on the alert fearing a similar Lalgarh like operation in the state. Whenever there is pressure from the police on the Maoists in any of these states, they cross over to bordering states till the dust settles. The Bengal-Jharkhand border is very porous and the entry point is Purulia-Bankura-Chakulia to downhill Pabra and Jamshedpur. Though police claim to have sealed these borders, the terrain hands the Maoists an advantage. "We are on alert and have posted forces on the border. We're also in touch with our counterparts in Bengal," said DGP V D Ram.

CPI(M) leader among four killed in clashes

LALGARH/BINPUR (WEST MIDNAPORE), 19 Jun 2009: As Bengal launched a counter-offensive against the Maoists, the attacks on CPI (M) cadres continued near Jhargram. Maoists brutally murdered a CPI(M) leader and three others near Goaltore.
The bodies, with throats slit and buried in a patch of 'shaal' forest, were found early Thursday. Families of the dead were left watching the corpses decompose in the heat as police stayed away. "If we cremate them, how will we prove that they were murdered? Will you ask the police to come," a kin of one of the victims pleaded with mediapersons.
In the attacks since the CPI (M) was routed in LS polls, nearly 30 people have been killed, mostly CPI (M) local leaders and activists. CM Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has left the door open for talks. Before leaving for Delhi on Thursday, the CM appealed to villagers to distance themselves from Maoists. Bhattacharjee will meet PM Manmohan Singh and Union home minister P Chidambaram on Friday.

Security forces begin final push to end Lalgarh seige

Lalgarh, June 19: After tasting some success in breaking through ‘human shields’ at several places en route to Lalgarh, WB police and other security forces on Friday resumed their operation to clear out the area of Maoists. About nine companies of security forces led by the state police forces and backed by CRPF men resumed ‘Operation Lalgarh’ early morning today – to gain control of the area which has been dubbed as a free zone by the Left ultras. Cops fearing landmine or claymore mines are employing anti-mine vehicles to sanitise the area as the forces begin moving through the forest towards the ground zero – where the Maoists are holed up. It was precisely this reason that the operation was halted for the night, yesterday, as the forces did not want to cross the Jhitka jungle beyond Pirrakula at night fearing the mines.

Helicopters are also being seen hovering over the area; the choppers have also dropped some leaflets, asking people not to sympathise with the rebels. Police said there are nearly 100 blockades that the securitymen would have to breakthrough en route to Lalgarh. Most residents of the villages fled their homes before the arrival of the security forces. The West Bengal government has already rejected negotiations with Maoists saying "so long there is violence and obstruction, there cannot be any discussion". Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhatacharjee said his government was ready to hold talks with tribals on their grievances, and appealed to the Lalgarh villagers not to get provoked by Maoist rebels and not let themselves be used as human shields by the Left radicals. State home secretary Ardhendu Sen said doors for discussions were open, but first the violence needed to stop. He said similar operations will also be launched in Bankura and Purulia districts. "We will make all the 18 police stations in the three Maoist affected districts free of the rebels". Yesterday, the forces came up against a 'human wall' at Malida, as hundreds of tribals carrying traditional weapons like bows and arrows, shovels, pickaxes and canes blocked the way by felling big trees on the road as they shouted slogans like "Inqilab Zindabad" and "Maoism zindabad". The police started baton charging and lobbing tear gas shells, and succeeded in dispersing the protesters. Two rebels as well as a lensman accompanying the security forces were injured, eyewitnesses said, but police did not confirm the news. The police raided some houses in the vicinity and detained a few people before resuming their march. Clashes between security personnels and Maoists were reported from Doima, Raj Kanojia Bankura. Maoist guerrillas have been active in organising a tribal movement alongside a group called the People's Committee Against Police Atrocities (PCAPA). The ultras have demanded that the Centre and state government apologise to the tribal people of Lalgarh if they wanted a peaceful and amicable resolution to the stand-off. "The Prime Minister (Manmohan Singh) and Home Minister (P Chidambaram) have started a psychological warfare by amassing huge forces. If they start the operations, we will resist with the help of the people who are with us," CPI-Maoist politburo member Kishanjee said over phone. He said the rebel group has decided to call for a two-day shutdown beginning Monday in West Bengal, Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Jharkhand and Bihar. Lalgarh has been on the boil since last November when a landmine exploded on the route of the convoy of Chief Minister Bhattacharjee and then central ministers Ram Vilas Paswan and Jitin Prasada. Maoists have been active in the three western districts of the state - West Midnapore, Bankura and Purulia. They also backed the Trinamool-sponsored movement against the state government's bid to establish a chemical hub at Nandigram in East Midnapore district.

Siliguri-Sikkim broad gauge railway survey

GANGTOK, 18 JUNE: The North East Frontier Railway has begun a survey for broad gauge railway project between Siliguri and Gangtok. According to Mr Bimal Samanta, chief survey officer, NF Railway, a broad gauge railway line would be laid up to Gangtok following submission of the survey report.
The survey team is now busy at Kalijhora near the Teesta in West Bengal. The report of the first phase of the on going survey would be submitted to the Railway Board along with technical designs by the end of November. The New Jalpaiguri Division of NF railway would start executing the project from December 2009. According to Mr Samanta, the line would be laid up to Rangpo (Sikkim-West Bengal border) in the initial phase, while the railway line would reach Ranipool near Gangtok at later stages.
It was also learnt that at least 14 tunnels would come in between Rangpo and Siliguri along NH 31A. The Rangpo-Ranipool stretch would have another 10 tunnels in the much awaited railway project in the Himalayan state. When asked about the structural designs and feasibility, Mr Samanta added that the railway project would be based on the study of the hilly railway system of Switzerland.

Unique retrospective of Bengali cinema opens in Edinburgh

London (PTI): The St John's Church Hall in Edinburgh has been transformed into a Sunderbans jungle for a three-day Bengali film retrospective of classics by Satyajit Ray, Ritwik Ghatak and Tapan Sinha as part of the Edinburgh International Film Festival.

The hall has been covered by foliage from West Bengal while the cackle and cooing of fauna from the Sunderban groves fills the air. According to film festival expert Mark Cousins, forests are a natural place to watch films, "particularly ones from steamy, florid West Bengal".The Bengali Film retrospective runs until tomorrow, when noted Indian actor Sharmila Tagore will be present to publicly discuss the mists and magic of Bengali cinema with Cousins.

Explaining the significance of watching Bengali films in a forest setting, Cousins said at the opening: "I associate forests with fairytales, so the idea of telling a story in a forest is very appealing."Bengal is famous for its jungles. Its images and sounds appear in all their poetry, music and literature.Besides, if you want to convince people to come to films they haven't heard of, you have to make it as magical as possible."

Cousins said: "We're showing West Bengal films in that little forest cinema because the creative heart of Indian cinema is in West Bengal. We invited the first lady of Bengali cinema, Sharmila Tagore, because she's a legend and her career is unique. We're totally thrilled".Classic Bengali films to be shown include Ghatak's 'Meghe Dhaka Tara' (1960), 'Titash Ekdi Nadir Naam' (1973), Tapan Sinha's 'Niranjan Saikate' (1963), and Satyajit Ray's 'Aranyer Din Ratri' (1970).

"Indian cinema is not all Bollywood. India is a federation of people, ideas and cultural forms. And West Bengal, without doubt, is the artistic heart of this federation. It has a tradition of literature and poetry that other parts of India didn't quite have. And this feeds into its films," Cousins added.The uniquely transformed movie hall is part of a cultural conversation between Kolkata and Scotland organised by the British Council.

"I want white Scots to fall in love with these films. I want people to be gripped by the desire to see what Kolkata is like. I want them to be left with a major hunger to go and see Bengali films. These are great works of art. It's as simple as that," Cousins added.