Didi and the Maoists seemed to have been following the script of a hush-hush Bollywood romance.
First there was the gossip. In the run-up to the elections, the CPI(M) was hinting darkly about a Maoist-Didi love affair.
Then came the standard coy “we are just good friends” type of denial.
Close on its heels came the love-fest. In July Mamata Banerjee showed up in Jangal Mahal with a bonanza of gifts, or rather promises of gifts – hospitals, bicycles for girls, schools, drinking water, roads. Anti-Maoist operations virtually ceased for the last four months, according to press reports.
Now the romance is on the skids.
“If you want to kill me, kill me. I am here,” the chief minister proclaimed grandly at a rally in West Midnapore where she gave the Maoists a seven-day ultimatum to give up arms and come to talks. “Dekhi koto buker pata. ( Let’s see how much guts you have).”
The breaking point apparently was the killing of a couple of local leaders by suspected Maoists, including Jharkhand Janmukti Morcha leader Rabindranath Bose. A Maoist spokesperson claimed that Bose was about to join the Trinamul Congress and would have been assigned to set up armed camps to fight the rebels.
“The problem is that in many Maoist-affected states, political parties have used Maoists to further their own cause,” says Rahul Pandita, author of Hello Bastar – The Untold Story of India’s Maoist Movement. He says the CPM used the Maoists to settle scores with the Trinamul at one time.
Then the Trinamul used the Maoists against the CPM in areas like Nandigram and Singur and kept quiet while the Maoists killed dozens of CPM cadre in Jangal Mahal areas. “It is politically important for Mamata that in areas like Midnapore, the CPM grassroot cadre is wiped out,” says Pandita. “But now the Maoists are targeting Trinamul cadre in these areas.”
Mamata feels betrayed. What is adding more pressure on her is the fact that the CPM is re-grouping even as her Rajya Sabha member Derek O’Brien is giving lectures at Yale titled “My leader is a one-woman army who demolished Communism from India”.
A recent article in Open Magazine claims that the Marxists have over the years raised a private militia, the Harmad Bahini, with a huge stockpile of illegal weapons. The Harmad Bahini “re-captured” Lalgarh from which the CPM had to beat an ignominious retreat about a year and a half ago. The party denies the existence of any private army, but it’s happening in plain sight writes Jaideep Mazumdar in Open.
Local police officers confirm these allegations. “Most offices of the CPM, especially in Goaltore, Salboni, Sadar and Jhargram blocks of this district, have stockpiles of weapons and house armed cadres,” whispers a senior police officer. The CPM’s harmads, he adds, are from East Midnapore and Hooghly districts…“A number of them have serious charges like murder and rape pending against them. They’re well trained and can handle sophisticated arms. Many are sharpshooters. The arms are mostly from Bihar, and some are also from Bangladesh,” the officer says.
Now add to this, the state’s financial crisis. It’s an unusually warm October and the state is facing the spectre of severe power cuts. Its coal stockpiles are running low and West Bengal doesn’t have the cash it needs to buy enough high-grade coal. The West Bengal Power Development Corporation Ltd has already run up a tab of Rs 500 crore to three Coal India subsidiaries.
Mamata needs all the money she can wrangle out of Delhi. And Chidambaram’s home ministry was never too happy with Mamata cozying up to the Maoists. Delhi is already signalling its happiness that Didi’s romance with this very “unsuitable boy” might be over.
“Whatever help is required to launch large-scale operations will be provided (if the Maoists fail to meet the deadline),” said Union Home Secretary Raj Kumar Singh after Mamata delivered her ultimatum. “The Maoists have no intention of giving up violence. They only want time and space to regroup.”
That is hardly a revelation. In her essay Trickledown Revolution, Arundhati Roy writes that even Maoist politburo member Azad admitted as much in an interview.
‘It doesn’t need much of a common sense to understand that both sides will utilise a situation of ceasefire to strengthen their respective sides.’ He then went on to explain that a ceasefire, even a temporary one, would give respite to ordinary people who are caught in a war zone.
Although the CPM would like to claim that the four-month hiatus has done “irreparable damage” to operations against the Maoists, no one was under any illusion that the Maoists would not use the calm to regroup and reclaim some of the ground they lost to the Harmad Bahini.
“That is fine as long as the state government is also working towards winning the hearts and minds of the people,” says Pandita. “In a majorly impoverished area like Midnapore, what Mamata is doing in terms of ‘bread-bombing’ is simply not enough.”
Now she has upped the ante by calling the Maoists “mafia” and “supari killers.” That gives the Maoists (who presumedly never had any intention of giving up their plans to create guerilla zones in Jangal Mahal) a good excuse to spurn a ceasefire.
The big question is which side has managed to strengthen itself more in this four-month hiatus. And whether one should take the seven-day deadline seriously. Other deadlines have come and gone.
Whatever the answer in the long term, the forecast for Jangal Mahal in the short term is grim.
“My assessment is Jangal Mahal will see more violence in the coming months,” says Pandita.