October 6, 2009



Chhatradhar Mahato’s arrest is the first major breakthrough since Central forces were deployed in Lalgarh.

KOLKATA: It looked like a scene out of the cinema screen. The Chhatradhar Mahato, convener of the Maoist-backed People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities (PCPA), who had been dodging arrest for over three months, was outfoxed on September 25 by police officers disguised as journalists, at Birkanr village near Lalgarh in West Bengal’s trouble-torn West Medinipur district. This was the first major breakthrough achieved by the police and the joint forces since the operations against the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist) in Lalgarh began on June 18.

Chhatradhar came into prominence after an assassination attempt by Maoists on Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee on November 2 last year at Kalaichand in West Medinipur district near the forested Lalgarh area. The PCPA’s violent agitation, which followed the arrests made in the area after that attempt, paved the way for the Maoists to strengthen their position. At their instigation, the tribal agitators refused to allow the police to enter Lalgarh, and this gave them enough time to entrench themselves in the region.

Beginning in November last year, the PCPA and the Maoists established a reign of terror not only in Lalgarh but beyond, systematically killing not just local leaders of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), or the CPI(M), but also ordinary CPI(M) supporters and those who resisted their diktat. They burnt down houses, ransacked CPI(M) offices, held kangaroo courts and carried out executions in the name of the area’s impoverished people.

As of September 30, as many as 62 people, mostly CPI(M) leaders and workers, had been murdered by the Maoists and the PCPA, 80 people were kidnapped and 160 injured, many of them critically, in the violence. “It is quite clear in the way one particular party is being targeted that the Maoists are using terror to create a political vacuum in the region, which they intend to fill,” a senior police source told Frontline.

Police trap

Chhatradhar Mahato, who organised violent rallies in the tribal belt in the past 11 months, was also the most familiar public face of the Maoists – he held press conferences and updated the media on the situation in Lalgarh.

Taking their cue from this, two police officers claiming to be journalists from a Singapore-based news channel established contact with Chhatradhar and a few local journalists who were in touch with him. They finally secured an appointment for an interview and were taken to his hideout in Birkanr, where they arrested him after the interview.

Though this has queered the pitch for the media, particularly the local press, who may henceforth be looked upon with suspicion by the Maoists, the State police insist that there was nothing wrong or illegal about the trap laid for Chhatradhar. The Jhargram court, where Chhatradhar was produced after his arrest, remanded him in police custody.

Manoj Kumar Verma, Superintendent of Police, West Medinipur, told Frontline: “For us this is a very important breakthrough. Chhatradhar Mahato was responsible for a lot of the law and order problem that exists in Lalgarh today. He was responsible for the entry of the Maoists into the region and for recruiting people; instead of books he gave guns in the hands of children. He also ordered killings and oversaw executions in the so-called jana adalats [people’s courts conducted by Maoists].”

There are 22 criminal cases pending against Chhatradhar in which he is the main accused, including charges under Sections 16, 18, 30, 38 and 39 of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), 1967, for his links with a terrorist organisation.

More cases are likely to be added to the pending ones as, according to Verma, a large number of people who have been arrested recently have named Chhatradhar as the person who gave orders for various crimes. The Government of India decided on June 22, 2009, to include the CPI (Maoist) in the schedule of organisations banned under the UAPA.

Soon after Chhatradhar’s arrest, Maoists called a 24-hour countrywide bandh on October 3, and CPI (Maoist) polit bureau member Koteswar Rao (alias Kishenji) reportedly warned of “dire consequences” if Chhatradhar was not “unconditionally released”. The PCPA announced a 48-hour bandh on September 30-October 1 in the Jangalmahal.

Senior PCPA leader Asit Mahato, who has taken charge of the outfit’s activities in the Lalgarh area after Chhatradhar’s arrest, told Frontline: “The intensity of our agitation has doubled. We wanted to conduct a peaceful agitation of the oppressed people in the region, but the way the administration and the combined forces are behaving we are left with no other option except a bloody confrontation. It is the people of the region who feel this way. We are also thinking of an indefinite strike in Jangalmahal at some point.”

As the news of the arrest spread, miscreants set off a landmine in Kantpahari, a few kilometres from Lalgarh. Four of the six people arrested in connection with the incident are suspected Maoists. In Salboni, not far from Lalgarh, a mob vandalised the houses of three CPI(M) leaders.

On the evening of the same day, two police constables, Sisirkanti Nag and Siteswar Prasad Singh, were abducted, allegedly by Maoists, in Belpahari. Though they were set free the next day, the kidnappers were reported to have initially threatened to kill them if Chhatradhar was not released. Sporadic incidents of violent protests were also reported on September 28, and there have been a few instances of blocking roads by felling trees.

However, the district police chief does not expect too much trouble. “Because of the atrocities committed by Chhatradhar, the people of the region are no longer with him. In the last five days [September 25-30], there has not been much protest in the Jangalmahal, unlike in November last year,” Verma told Frontline.

Is Chhatradhar a Maoist?

In Kolkata, however, there have been some protests led by a group of eminent intellectuals, including writer and social activist Mahasweta Devi, poets Shankha Ghosh and Joy Goswami, theatre artistes Kaushik Sen and Bibhas Chakraborty, and others. They insist that Chhatradhar is a leader of a “people’s democratic movement”.

Earlier too, on June 21, three days after Central forces began their operations, a group of leading artists and intellectuals, including film director Aparna Sen and theatre personalities Shaoli Mitra and Kaushik Sen, held talks with Chhatradhar in the affected area, ignoring a government request and defying a ban under Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code.

Chhatradhar himself has never professed to be a Maoist. But the organisation he led, the PCPA, was certainly used as a vital tool by the Maoists to spread their influence in and around Lalgarh. In fact, Chhatradhar served as the political front for the Maoists.

“Chhatradhar has always claimed that he has nothing to do with Kishenji and the Maoists; then why are they calling a bandh and clamouring for his release? He is part and parcel of the Maoist atrocities. We do not differentiate between him and other Maoists, and we have a lot of evidence to prove that Chhatradhar is a Maoist,” Verma told Frontline.

Police claims

Bhupinder Singh, the Director-General of Police, West Bengal, while speaking to the media on September 30, revealed that Chhatradhar admitted, in police custody, to having “links” with the Maoists. He also confessed, the DGP said, that he had a life insurance policy worth Rs.1 crore, that he recently bought a house at Mayurbhanj in Orissa, and that he received funds regularly from Kolkata and outside.

Confessions made in police custody are, of course, inadmissible as evidence in a court of law, according to the Indian Evidence Act. The police, however, were guarded in their statements and said they were still verifying the details of the insurance policy and the accounts held by the PCPA in different banks.

Questions are being raised as to why Chhatradhar, known to have travelled to Kolkata on two occasions earlier this year, was not arrested before. State Home Secretary Ardhendu Sen explained that it was because Chhatradhar’s political activities had undergone an “evolution” since those visits to the city and that he progressed increasingly along the extremist path.

Trinamool stand

Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress seems to have undergone a metamorphosis as far as its stand on Chhatradhar is concerned. In February, Mamata Banerjee, not yet Railway Minister, shared a dais with Chhatradhar. Earlier, too, she had extended unequivocal support to his cause.
But she gradually distanced herself from the movement he represented, and after her significant success in the Lok Sabha elections, she has had practically nothing to do with Chhatradhar and the PCPA.

In July this year, when a team of senior Trinamool leaders, including the Leader of the Opposition in the State Assembly Partha Chatterjee, Union Minister of State for Shipping Mukul Roy and Union Minister of State for Rural Development Sisir Adhikari, went to Lalgarh, they did not even meet Chhatradhar. Soon after Chhatradhar’s arrest, Mamata Banerjee held a press conference in Kolkata on September 30. Chhatradhar was not even mentioned.

Chhatradhar Mahato’s arrest assumes special political significance in the light of the recent announcement by Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram highlighting the urgent need for a nationwide counter-terrorist initiative against the Maoists before they became an uncontrollable force. Chhatradhar’s arrest may well be a precursor of things to come.
Two officers, claiming to be journalists, secured an appointment with Mahato.

FRONTLINE, Volume 26 - Issue 21 :: Oct. 10-23, 2009

Trinamool sponsoring violence against CPI(M) cadres:Yechury

NEW DELHI: Communist Party of India (Marxist) politburo member Sitaram Yechury alleged that cabinet ministers in the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) were patronising Maoist rebels in West Bengal to target his party offices and cadres.
"The prime minister says the greatest danger to our internal security is Maoist violence, and then you have cabinet ministers patronising them (the rebels)," Yechury told reporters, without naming his party's West Bengal arch rival, Trinamool Congress (TMC) leader Mamata Banerjee who is also the railways minister in the UPA government. A day after hundreds of villagers clashed with armed Maoist rebels in West Bengal's trouble-torn Inayatpur area of West Midnapore district, Yechury claimed that the rebels moved from the spot "only when central forces" arrived on the scene.
Confirming the late Monday night incident, West Midnapore police superintendent MK Verma said that additional police contingents had been rushed to the area. He said there was no death. Yechury alleged the CPI(M) offices were being systematically targeted by Maoists patronised by "cabinet ministers" and claimed that "more than 60 of our CPI(M) members have been killed" in the past few months.

West Bengal give most jobs to disabled under NREGA

New Delhi: Left-ruled West Bengal have emerged as the top state in implementing the Centre's ambitious flagship programme NREGA for the disabled. According to the latest official estimates, West Bengal has provided work to as many as 29,714 disabled people in 2009-10 followed by Chhattisgarh where 13,763 people have been given work.
The National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) promises 100-day guaranteed unskilled manual work to every rural adult with an aim to alleviate poverty in such areas. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, on the occasion of Gandhi Jayanti on October 2, announced that the scheme will be rechristened as Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee Act.
BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh has acquired third position in providing jobs to 9,787 disabled, followed closely by Marxist-ruled Tripura at 8,485, Gujarat at 6,994 and Maharashtra at 5,423. Rajasthan, where the highest number of people was provided jobs in the current fiscal, could engage only 2,271 disabled people even as a total of 9,384 physically challenged people registered for work under the flagship programme.
Karnataka has provided jobs to a total of 3,722 disabled people, followed by Tamil Nadu at 1,851 and Kerala at 983. A total of 2,680 disabled people have been given jobs in Jharkhand. As many as 4,410 disabled people have been registered for work under the Act in Bihar.
However, the state government has so far provided jobs to only 38 of them. Compared to the figures of 2008-09, the statistics of the ministry show an increase in the participation of disabled people under the programme in the current financial year.
During the financial year 2008-09, a total of 1,46,855 people were provided jobs under NREGA across the country and then too West Bengal was at the top of the list of the states followed by Madhya Pradesh.

CPM goes back to basics to revive fortunes in West Bengal

Posted: Sun, Sep 27 2009. 11:34 PM IST, LIVEMINT

The Marxist party wants to rebuild contact with supporters and those who feel alienated from it

By Aniek Paul and Romita Datta

Kolkata: When on 31 August the Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPM, organized a huge rally in Kolkata to commemorate the food movement of 1959, it revived an old practice of collecting food from the homes of its supporters in the city for distribution among party workers who had travelled from elsewhere.

It was the CPM’s way of connecting with the people through the 1970s and 1980s, which the party had abandoned in more recent years, perhaps decades. In those days, the CPM couldn’t afford to feed the hundreds of thousands of supporters who came to Kolkata to attend party rallies. So, workers in Kolkata and its vicinity went door-to-door collecting contributions of roti and jaggery.

The practice gave the party access to women, otherwise indifferent to politics, and provided an easy way of communicating to them what the party was protesting about or fighting for. But with power came affluent patrons, and the party didn’t have to depend on charity to feed its workers any more. With time, the CPM, which seized power in West Bengal in 1977 and has held on to it since, gave up the practice of collecting food for its workers, in the process losing a way of communicating with supporters.

After several poll debacles starting with the panchayat, or village council, elections in 2008 that stretched into the Lok Sabha polls this year, the CPM revived the practice with the aim of rebuilding contact with both people who continue to support the party and those who have distanced themselves from it.

“The response was good,” says Biman Bose, a member of the CPM politburo—the party’s highest decision-making body—and its state secretary for West Bengal. The CPM has launched a “rectification campaign” for party workers ahead of the 82 civic body elections due in 2010 and the crucial assembly elections the year after.

The campaign is aimed at correcting any political, ideological and organizational lapses and reconnecting with people who had become estranged from the party.

Such campaigns are essential for the “health and hygiene” of the party, says Bose. “But because of frequent elections, we were unable to run such campaigns.” The CPM launched a similar campaign some 13 years ago. As a first step, the party is trying to identify from among its 375,000-odd members how many have distanced themselves from day-to-day operations.

“We are trying to understand why they are not taking interest in the party’s work. Is it because of illness or old age? Or is it because they have moved away? Based on that understanding, we will decide what to do with these people,” Bose said in an interview.

In a communiqué to its members released after the state secretariat meeting in August, the CPM said that “in some cases (areas), 25-40% of party members are inactive”, including some “key leaders”. A large section of party workers have distanced themselves from the “core programmes and ideology” of the CPM, the note said, adding that the CPM needs to launch a “reorientation programme” for its workers.

Party workers have been told that they should eschew links with businessmen, especially real estate developers and construction equipment suppliers, says Bose. The August communiqué said a section of party workers, though not large, had exploited their links with the party to build businesses at the cost of the CPM’s credibility.

“We have noticed that a section of party members were using their clout for personal gains… Maybe they were doing it for their livelihood,” says Shyamal Chakraborty, a CPM state secretariat member. “But it goes against our party’s norms, and we will not tolerate this.”

Under a back-to-basics reform programme, party workers have been advised not to lead processions on motorcycles brandishing CPM flags because motorcycles do not fit the party’s image—they are seen as a symbol of aggression. “Motorcycles just aren’t needed,” says Bose. “If it’s a procession, you are expected to walk. Why should it be led by motorcycles?”

Party workers have also been told not to interfere in private disputes. For instance, they have been instructed not to take sides in fights between landlords and tenants. “Why should we get involved? The courts should deal with these problems.” But it may be a case of too little, too late. The August note to CPM members says a large section of the party is depressed after the Trinamool Congress-Congress combine won 25 of the 42 parliamentary seats in the state in the April-May general election. “People wanted to teach us a lesson,” admits Bose. “But some are already saying this was too much.”

The Left parties came to power in 1977 because of their dedication to ideology, says Abhirup Sarkar, professor of economics at Kolkata’s Indian Statistical Institute. “But over the years, it has lost that image, and it might be too late for a rectification programme.”

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Keventer Agro invests Rs 125 cr for first cold store chain in Bengal

KOLKATA,October 5, 2009: Kolkata-based Keventer Agro group has invested Rs 125 crore in West Bengal’s first integrated cold store chain project.The integrated cold store chain is part of Keventer’s new foray into fresh foods through Keventer Fresh Limited (KFL).

Mahendra Kumar Jalan, chairman, Keventer, said at the launch of the project, the total land for the project was 250 acres. KFL integrates supply chain management solutions to modern retail and cash & carry formats. KFL has already tied up with Metro Cash & Carry, Aditya Birla Retail, Pantaloons and Reliance Retail, among others. The project was part of the Union food processing ministry’s 100-day programme.
Union minister for food process industries, Subodh Kant Sahay, said that the Union government would extend Rs 10 crore as part of its incentive scheme for cold store chains. The project comprised dry and wet sections. While the dry section was equipped to handle staples, FMCG foods, potatoes and onions, the wet section had facilities like pre-cooling chambers, fruit washing, sorting and grading chambers.