The resurgence of Maoists marked 2009 in West Bengal with ultras expanding their writ in vast tracts of three districts, targeting political workers at will and abducting policemen while an operation to flush them out could not make much of a dent in their bastion.
The Maoists particularly increased their influence among tribal communities in forest areas of West Midnapore. In Lalgarh in the district, tribals backed by ultras virtually rendered the administration defunct for several months alleging police atrocities and lack of development.
The Maoist frontal organisation - People’s Committee against Police Atrocities (PCPA) - also laid a daring 10-hour siege to New Delhi-bound Bhubaneswar Rajdhani Express near Jhargram on October 27 demanding the release of their arrested leader Chhatradhar Mahato.
The extremists continued to strike at will at ‘Jangal Mahal’ in southwestern parts of the state, killing a large number of political workers, mostly ruling CPI(M) cadres and abducting several policemen, including officer-in-charge (OC) of Sankrail police station in West Midnapore in October.
OC Atindranath Dutta was released after 50 hours in captivity, as the government freed 13 women held for suspected Maoist links. While releasing him, the ultras led by Maoist commander Koteshwar Rao alias ‘Kishenji’ staged an audacious ’prisoner of war drama’ covered extensively by television channels.
Towards the end of the year, Maoists surged back with fresh demands — autonomy for the districts of Purulia, Bankura and West Midnapore on the lines of the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council.
Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee faced flak when he admitted that Maoist leader Kishenji cannot be tracked by police despite his regular phone calls to prominent people, including state bureaucrats and “hundreds of journalists“.
Previously, Kishenji had refused to forsake the gun after Union Home Minister P Chidambaram said Maoists will have to lay down arms for talks with the government.
This is the second coming of Maoists in the state, where the Naxalite movement started on May 25, 1967.
From 2002 onwards, CPI-Maoist cadres were infiltrating from Jharkhand and Orissa into West Midnapore particularly in areas like Belpahari, Kantapahari and Banspahari.
The problem took a serious turn after a landmine blast targeting the chief minister’s convoy near Salboni on November 2, 2008. Police arrested three schoolboys, suspecting them to be Maoists, in connection with the incident.
Enraged by the arrests, tribals backed by Maoists formed the PCPA, surrounded Lalgarh police station, put it under lock and key and cut off the area by felling trees and digging the roads leading to it.
The PCPA raised 13 demands, including that the district superintendent of police seek their forgiveness. Police were not allowed to enter Lalgarh for six months till joint central—state forces stormed the area and opened the police station on June 23.
The joint operation started on June 18 with a strong state force and 16 companies of central forces including BSF, CRPF and Combat Battalion for Resolute Action (COBRA) — the group specially trained for anti-Maoist operation — being deployed to flush out the Maoists, but it did not yield the desired result.
After nearly seven months of operation there has not been considerable success and Maoists continue to dominate different areas of Bankura, Purulia and West Midnpore.
Home Secretary Ardhendu Sen has also admitted that the second phase of Lalgarh operation was not successful and did not reach up to the expected level.
“Even though it brought success initially, the second phase of the operation proved unsuccessful,” he has said.
After June 18, at least 135 people have died at the hands of Maoists including police personnel and central forces jawans, CPI(M) cadres, other party workers and common people.
“Unless we are able to disassociate the Maoists from the common people it is very difficult to flush them out of the region,” State police chief Bhupinder Singh has said.
Though the government has announced a slew of developmental programmes for the tribal region, the situation in Lalgarh and its adjacent areas continue to be grim.