in the pic : The CPM party office in Enayatpur doubles as a camp
A ‘Salwa Judum’ in Bengal, helped by CPM & police
The Salwa Judum movement may be mired in controversy in Chhattisgarh, but in West Bengal’s Maoist hotbed of Lalgarh and neighbouring Bankura and Purulia districts, a Communist version of the “people’s resistance” has taken root over the past one and a half years.
Heavily armed CPM “fighters” living in nearly a dozen camps have been taking on Maoist activists and killed at least 60, say police sources. Each of these camps, set up at strategic locations, houses not less than 100 such men.
They are backed by local MPs and MLAs of the CPM, and their command headquarters is located in Keshpur in West Midnapore, which has not been touched by Maoist violence and is a stronghold of the party.
In Junglemahal area of Lalgarh, the “fighters” go by various names, such as the Mao Daman Sena, Gana Protirodh Manch or Sendri Committee. On their goal, there is no ambiguity: to ensure protection to villages known to have allegiance to the Communists and to carry out selected, targeted killings of Maoists.
The camps where the CPM “fighters” are lodged have never been raided by the police, despite the weapons wielded by the men.
West Bengal DGP Bhupinder Singh, in fact, says he sees nothing wrong in the cadres fighting back.
“In these districts there might be resistance from the CPM party. More than 150 of their members have been slaughtered by Maoists. The CPM has a right to resist the Maoists. So what is wrong in it?” he asks, adding, “Our forces do not move with any cadre.”
Among the villages where these camps are located are Tirkabandh in Arsa, Potsila in Bandwan, Ghatbera and Keroa in Balrampur, the Ayodhya Hill areas, Baita and Dharampur in Lalgarh, and Madhupur, Lakkhanpur, Enayatpur, Chandra, Sankrail, Keshiapara and Hatiloth in West Midnapore.
The resistance force has evolved in the face of systematic murders of CPM cadres by Maoists, and first tasted blood in Purulia. Since November 2009, it has been gaining in strength. A local CPM leader admits that there has been a sharp corresponding drop in the tally of party activists killed by Maoists.
Says Manidra Gope, a CPM Purulia district committee member: “In a democracy, armed struggle is considered a violation. The CPM, being a political outfit, operates under the Constitution… never wants to take up arms. But the Maoists are trying to destroy democracy, and to save it, we have to take up arms to resist them and in self-defence.”
Amiya Patro, the secretary of the Bankura district committee of the CPM, backs him. “They have killed over 160 of our party supporters. How long can we sit and watch? Why should we be a mute witness to such killings.”
Asked if this was another Salwa Judum, West Midnapore Superintendent of Police Manoj Verma says: “The Marxists and Maoists kill each other as they are arch-rivals. But there have been four-five cases in the past 10 days in Lakkhanpur, Madhupur, Lalgarh and Hatiloth area where it was alleged that Maoists had killed Maoists. It is intriguing.” He adds that in Junglemahal, “most people carry arms and they belong to all political outfits”.
To avoid drawing attention to such killings, both sides try to keep the numbers down — the Maoists by taking away bodies and the resistance cadres by camouflaging them as Maoist killings.
An impression is created by the CPM fighters that the victim belonged to the party and had been murdered by the Maoists. In some cases, even posters of Maoists taking credit for the killing are left behind.
Ironically, it suits the Maoists too if the number of their men killed doesn’t come out. Casualties, they fear, will affect the morale of other squad members.
Rights activists accuse police of looking the other way. Sujatao Bhadra, secretary of the Association for Protection of Democratic Rights (APDR), says the organisation has listed over 50 people allegedly killed by armed CPM forces from June 2009 to February 2010.
“We have all the details, but since police are supporting the cadres, the relatives of the victims do not go to the police,” says Bhadra.