June 29, 2009

Declaring victory, Maoists begin retreat

By Praveen Swami

Under-staffed West Bengal police will face serious post-operation challenges

Early on Friday, a big blast shattered the stillness of the forests around Lalgarh. It appeared to be the first sign of a major battle Maoists have long been threatening to launch as the police inch forward into their forest strongholds.

But by evening, Kadasol village was firmly under the control of the security forces. The Maoist cadre had melted into the adjoining forests, abandoning their positions. The landmine blast, it turned out, was set off by a bomb-detection team.

For days, media had been reporting that the counter-Maoist operations in Lalgarh have ground to a halt. The appearance is deceptive. Police have been conducting metre-by-metre sweeps to clear roads and forest paths of dozens of improvised explosive devices.

Judging by the insurgents’ reluctance to engage the advancing forces, the Maoist presence in Lalgarh is now mainly propagandistic: having declared victory, their forces have little interest in fighting.

Less than 250 armed men, police sources say, are now believed to be present in the so-called liberated zone: a thin arc running along the road east of Lalgarh, through Bara Pelia, Kantapahari and on to Ramgarh. Most of them are local sympathisers, with only rudimentary weapons training.

Key insurgent commanders like M. Koteshwar Rao are believed to have long ago retreated to the safety of Jharkhand’s un-policed hills.

At its peak, the Maoist presence was concentrated in just 17 villages and hamlets in four of West Medinipur’s 31 administrative blocks along West Bengal’s border with Jharkhand.

Even this presence was established not by guerrilla war, but under the cover of a political movement. In November, a Maoist-led organisation, the People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities, initiated an agitation calling for the withdrawal of police pickets from 15 locations. To avert a bloody confrontation, the government agreed and the Maoists took control.

Evicting Maoists from Lalgarh will, more likely than not, prove to be the easy part of the counter-terrorism operation.

The real challenge will be to prevent their regrouping once the special forces are pulled out. Most propagandists often describe West Bengal as a police State. Like other States in India, West Bengal in fact has a police force, which can at best be described as anaemic.

Responsible for the safety of a population, which stood at 80,221,171 in 2001, the State police have a sanctioned strength of 106,340 personnel. That means 92 personnel are in theory available for protecting every 100,000 population, compared to an all-India ratio of 121:100,000.

Figures released by the United Nations Division for Policy Analysis and Public Affairs in March, 2005 show that these levels are amongst the lowest in the world.

Mexico, home to narcotics problem and low- grade insurgency, has 491.8 police personnel for every 100,000 residents; Italy, which faces only an organised crime threat, has 559; even peaceful Belgium has 357.5.

Moreover, the West Bengal police are chronically short-staffed. The State police’s civil police component, responsible for the maintenance of law and order, should have 70,328 personnel at its disposal. It has only 50,381.

The worst deficiencies are at the officer level. The police’s civil component is 35 per cent short of Senior Superintendents of Police, Superintendents of Police, Additional Superintendents of Police and Deputy Superintendents of Police. At the cutting-edge level of Inspectors, Sub-Inspectors and Assistant Sub-Inspectors, the deficiency is even worse: 27 per cent.

Staffing of the armed police, charged with dealing with violent activities like terrorism and communal violence, is also below the sanctioned levels. The State Police should have 36,012 personnel available for duty, but only has 26,290 on its rolls. Like the civil police, the State’s armed police are grossly short of officers: 35 per cent in the SSP-DSP band, and 37 per cent below that.

Factoring in the gap between sanctioned strength and actual strength, the police have just 70 police personnel for every 100,000 residents.

Why has this happened? Policing simply wasn’t a priority and with good reason. Speaking at the City College of New York in 2007, eminent economist Amartya Sen pointed out that Kolkata “has an exceptionally low crime rate — indeed absolutely the lowest crime rate among all the Indian cities.”

Dr. Sen pointed, in particular, to the “the incidence of murder.” “The average incidence of murder in Indian cities,” he noted, was 2.7 per 100,000 people, 2.9 for Delhi.” The rate is 0.3 in Calcutta [Kolkata].” By way of contrast, in 2005, Paris had a homicide rate of 2.3, Dhaka 3.6, Los Angeles 8.8, Johannesburg 21.5 and Rio de Janeiro an astonishing 34.9.

Like other States, though, West Bengal could now be compelled to divert funds from development to securing its residents.
THE HINDU,27th JUNE,2009



KOLKATA: Bengal Left Front met on 25 June at the Muzaffar Ahmad Bhavan in Kolkata. Biman Basu, Chairman, led the discussion. Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee was present. The meeting conversed in discursive detail the outline of a political campaign across Bengal touching the issues that concerned the mass of the people. The meeting as usual specified the details of the campaign. Biman Basu later briefed the media in some detail.

The LF leadership in attendance at the Front meeting earlier took up the issue of violence committed with impunity on the people by the goons and professional hoods in the pay and protection of the Bengal opposition, especially the Trinamul Congress, the Pradesh Congress, and the self-styled ‘Maoists.’ The attacks and assaults have been an unpleasant if ongoing feature of opposition ‘politics’ from the time of the parliament election. The aggression intensified following the publication of the Lok Sabha results.


Political programmes have already taken place at the initiative of the LF in major cities and townships of Bengal, and this programme has to be made situation specific and with increased and intense mass contact. Biman recalled that the Front meeting after the election results had been announced called for an intensification of people-oriented political campaign work. The bond with the masses must be further improved, the Front had then already decided.

The present meeting dwelled on the mapping out of a precise scenario where the political campaign had the participatory presence of the people themselves, irrespective of their electoral inclination. ‘Common people,’ or ‘sadharan manush,’ were the two important words in the resolve that the experienced Front leadership chose to focus the political highlight on, in the meeting and later at the proscenium of the masses.


The Front chose to stress on such particular programmes touching the sadharan manush in the townships as amongst the hamlets as the rectification of anomalies in the BPL listings; the extended implementation of the NREGA, the work of furnishing of fertilisers (the Front had always particularised bio-fertilisers, one recalls), supply-side qualitative and quantitative improvements in pesticides, higher-yield and pest-resistant seeds-seedlings and so on. The district-specific issue again touching the people are to be identified and implemented appropriately at the level of the district LF.

Taking up the BPL issue the LF leadership felt that the factor of correct identification of people eligible to be brought in the purview of BPL contained lacunae. A section of the impoverished faced problems of livelihoods-- and of lives because of the anomalous situation. Inclusion in the BPL list, Biman pointed out, entailed the cascading benefits of free healthcare as well as of PDS-supplied essential goods of daily consumption at a lower array of prices.


There was an associated problem to which Biman drew the attention of the media. There remained a plethora of districts in Bengal where the number of counterfeit ration cards proliferated and continued to do so. There are districts where the number of ration cards exceeded the estimated population. A vice versa has prevailed in some other districts. In such staringly anomalous cases as these, the Front’s suggestion to the administration was the cancellation of the ration card and an issuance de novo of such cards to the people. This could be done after the BPL list has been made to stand corrected.

Dwelling on the NREGA, the Left Front thought that weaknesses persisted in the implementation of the programme. Biman would mention ‘various difficulties,’ that would seem to have set the programme back a while. The LF leadership agreed that it must be probed how newer projects could be included in the NREGA programme without flouting or causing anomalies to occur in the concerned central government act. Citing examples, Biman mentioned the task of erecting bunds, earthen or otherwise, in the districts affected by the recent and devastation-causing cyclonic storm.

Bengal must rise above the national average of employment rate of people under this scheme, which is at 60% at the all-India level. The LF leader pointed out that in invoking newer schemes, the evolving situational reality of the Bengal countryside and the principal rural characteristics of the state must be recalled. During the ‘off’ season in the agricultural belts when work is hard to come by for the khet mazdoors and the itinerant farm workers, the NREGA projects could come in very handy for this section of the rural poor. The NREGA could also be used to employ gainfully those of the agri-labour who found it tough going even in the ‘on’ season of sowing, growth, and harvest.


Noting specifically the shortcomings in the supply of farm ‘productive collaterals’ like seeds, pesticides and fertilisers, Biman noted a few precise points in this connection. The senior CPI (M) leader noted that supplies often failed to turn up in good time. In the case of seeds and seedlings, errors of choice have turned up again -- and then once again. Citing instances Biman said that to the astonishment and often dismay of the farmer, the seeds purchased proved to produce crops of a variety different from that anticipated.

The district units of the Left Front have been asked to meet and put on motion a wide-ranging political campaign on all the issues. The campaign-movements will take place in seriatim, at the levels of the blocks, the sub-divisions, and the districts, with each tier of movement climaxing with organisation of deputation to the concomitant levels of state administration. The matters touching the people’s peace and security would be placed before the various levels of the police administration at the same time. Rallies would be organised in a lengthy schedule all over Bengal-- on the developmental and people’s security-related issues, Biman Basu assured the media.


Biman also dwelled on the issue of development of the western part of Bengal, an issue that the Front leadership had taken up. Earlier, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee reported on the recent developments taking place at Lalgarh and adjoining blocks of Midnapore west. The report made it clear that with 30, 000-odd people ejected out of home-and-hearth in the jangal mahals by the aggression of the ‘Maoists,’ the fa├žade has been ripped away and the real anti-people face of the marauders exposed in the pitiless light of facts, hard facts. The forcible push forward of the innocent women and children to form human barricades to daunt the security forces has been another example of the barbarity perpetrated by the ‘Maoists’ and their allies, the Trinamul Congress.

LF leadership focussed on the need to speed up development further in the laterite zone of Bengal where most of the poor villages of the state are located. The majority of the Gram Panchayats and the Panchayat Samities of the blocks affected with ‘Maoist’ depredations, e.g., Binpur I and Binpur II, are controlled for some time now by an ally of the ‘Maoists,’ the Jharkhandis. The decentralised plans and programmes were deliberately not implemented in these blocks by the forces of division.


Biman mentioned a case that he knew of to exemplify the anti-poor behaviour of the Jharkhandis. At the village of Amlasole, there is an acute water crisis, especially of potable water, come the cruel and unproductive summer months. The need is to dig a large pond where rainwater and sub-soil water will accumulate and filtrate to create a perennial source of water. Since the excavation will endanger the anti-Communist propaganda of both the Bengal opposition and their belligerent cohorts in the big media, the pond never materialised. Finally, it was Dr Pulin Behari Baskey, the present MP and then Zillah Parishad chairman, utilised ZP funds to have the pond dug.

Much in a similar vein, the ‘Maoists’ have indulged in acts of commission including blasting of land mines to destroy both roads and road-making machines. Government offices and tourist bungalows, one recalls in this connection, have been blown up, repeatedly. Road rollers have been set a-fire, and cement mixers have been dragged off into forests and systematically dismantled. Communication network has been torn down for communication is something of which ‘Maoist’ is always afraid. The LF urged upon the state government to add a further and fresh impetus to the ongoing developmental work in the laterite zone of Bengal in particular.(INN)