While several CPI(M) cadre were killed by the Maoists, the Left lost mass connect by promoting local contractors

On the outskirts of the affluent West Bengal village of Lodhashuli, a woman in her mid-twenties sits on a plastic stool in her garment shop. Her husband Debashish Maiti was picked up from the shop by Maoists and killed – among the nearly 200 victims of the extremists across Jangalmahal over the past few years.

His wife refuses to talk about the incident. “Please leave me be… I have two kids to support,” she says, refusing even to give her name. Her fellow traders explain that she has been in shock since the incident, struggling to re-build her life, even as she painstakingly collected a list of the Maoists’ victims.

The lack of justice for these killings will dominate the voters’ choice during elections on Wednesday.

The area had been under Marxist control since 1980. “I had won Assembly election in 1977, but was an exception,” said Santosh Rana, chief of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) (Provisional Central Committee). The Jangalmahal area is spread across Jhargram, Bankura and two other constituencies. In the 2011 Assembly election, the Left Front was defeated in the region by the combined force of the CPI (Maoist) and the Trinamool Congress. “Many CPI (Marxist) cadres were either killed or threatened by the Maoists,” says Tapan Mahato, an apparel retailer at Lodhashuli, conceding, however, that the CPI(Marxist) had lost mass connect by “promoting a handful of local contractors”. The outlawed party earlier won local support when Maoists began to kill workers of the CPI (Marxist). But later they went on the rampage, killing indiscriminately, with more than 250 cadre killed in the Jhargram sub-division alone.

Among those who lost their lives was Karunasindhu Mahato, a peasant in nearby Salboni area.

“The family did not even have money to fetch the body from the mortuary,” said a neighbour, on condition of anonymity.

At the heart of this “massacre” was one extremely respected Maoist leader — Mallojula Koteswara Rao alias Kishenji. The CPI(Marxist)’s Polit Buro member, Rao, encouraged an unofficial alliance with the Trinamool ahead of the 2011 election, despite criticism from his own party. During Rao’s tenure in east India, Maoists targeted both the powerful CPI(M) leaders and hapless peasants like Karunasindhu Mahato. Multiple evidence from intelligence and Maoist party suggests that senior Trinamool leaders, some of whom are contesting this election, were in regular touch with Rao throughout the process.

“Perhaps, Kishenji thought Maoists will be able to control Jungalmahal after the CPI-M’s demise. He paid with his life (for this the belief),” said a member of Maoist party in Delhi. Soon after Rao was killed in the winter of 2011, the Maoist movement collapsed in south Bengal. Almost the entire local level Maoist leadership joined the Trinamool. One of them, Dilip Maiti of Lodhashuli, admitted to having been involved with the Maoists even as he has gone on to become a Trinamool supporter.

“I was forced by the Maoists to look after their education cell. In our land, once you come to power, every one supports you. We moved from Congress to CPI-M to CPI-Maoist to the Trinamool,” said Maiti. The Hindu has the names of at least two dozen leaders now working for the Trinamool, who were with the CPI-Maoist two summers ago. With an “unofficial” merger and the disappearance of the official Left, the Trinanool-Congress alliance got a majority of seats in the area in 2011 Assembly election.

Members of another simmering movement have also joined hands with the ruling Trinamool. “The Jharkhandi movement was directed against the Left Front. Many who were with the movement joined the Maoists and later aligned with the Trinamool,” explains CPI-ML (PCC) leader Niranjan Bera of Jhargram.

CPI(M) activists say the party had “no option” but to step back as the entire area turned hostile.

“We could not even meet family members of our cadres who were killed as most of the leaders had to flee,” said Zonal secretary of the CPI(M), Jharkhand Town, Pradeep Banerjee. He added: “We do not use guns, unlike our opposition; we fight with ideology and stepped back to maintain peace.”

However, residents of Netai — a hamlet next to Lalgarh — do not accept that the CPI(M) always used “ideology” while ruling. CPI(M) activists fired and killed nine residents of Netai in January, 2011, and the incident completely isolated the Left Front in Jangalmahal. “We will not allow the CPI(M) to even campaign here,” said a Netai resident, unanimously. Such civilian resistance combined with large-scale violence targeting cadres is expected to keep the Marxists out of the area for at least a few more years.