The Maoist strongholds of Lalgarh, Jhargram and its adjacent areas in West Midnapore district are awaiting the advent of Goddess Durga with hope, as a large number of people who were forced to flee their homes have returned.

In comparison to last year when 50 per cent of the pujas were not held because of the uncertainty and violence, over 100 pandals have sprung up this time to celebrate the four days that the ten-armed goddess spends with her four children on earth.

The one at Dharampur, near Lalgarh, which organises one of the largest pujas was a lacklustre affair last year because the main organiser, CPI(M) strongman, Anuj Pandey, had to flee his palatial home which was ransacked and torched by Maoists.

“This year he is back and we are hoping that it will be a grand affair again,” said a villager of Dharampur.

“Last year the puja was organised somehow because most villagers had fled. This year the situation has changed because the tension of Maoist violence has subsided and the people have returned home,” Kartik Dey of Belatikri village who is sculpting the image, said.

“Last year, there were over 150 bandhs or strikes called by the Maoists and the economy of the area collapsed. There was also less rain which affected agriculture and led to a shortage in collecting money for the pujas,” Sukhamay Satpathi, an organiser of a major puja in Jhargram, said.

West Midnapore’s Superintendent of Police Manoj Verma told PTI “For the last one year the joint forces have been continuously fighting the Maoists and they are not as strong as they were in the area one year ago. We are, therefore, hopeful the pujas will be held in a grand manner.”

The police, he said, had been working among the people for quite a long time to ensure that the Durga pujas could be celebrated without trouble.

He said that the police planned to open kiosks at some pujas to provide assistance to the people and also make them aware of the good work that the police were doing to ensure their safety and security, Mr. Verma said.

“Leaflets describing our activities will be distributed among the people during the pujas,” the SP said.

He also said that there were plans for the pujas for which government approval has been sought. “Once it is approved we will be able to gift a surprise to junglemahal.”

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