By Indrajit Sharma*
On February 22, 2021, Police recovered handwritten posters, bearing the name of the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist), from three villages in Ajodhya hills, Kotshila and Balrampur in Purulia District. The posters, written in red ink on white paper, listed a series of demands, including the reduction of petrol and diesel prices, withdrawal of the three farm laws [Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act] introduced by the central government, adequate ration, and putting a halt to the caste-related violence as well as ‘Police atrocities’.
There were seven such instances of recovery of Maoist posters from across the State in 2020, prominently including:
- November 30: At least 30 Maoist posters and leaflets, along with large banners with a call to the people to celebrate the ‘People’s Liberation Guerilla Army (PLGA) Week’ (December 2 to 8), were found at several places in Purulia District. The handwritten posters asked the people to rise in protest against the Central Government’s new farm laws and its policy to hand over land to corporate entities.
- November 24: Maoist posters were found in various parts of Purulia District. In the posters the Maoists demanded money from the Bengal government.
- September 27: Security Forces (SFs) recovered Maoist posters in the Parui area in Batikar village in Birbhum District.
On August 17, 2020, commenting on recovery of such posters, an unnamed senior official of the State Police said,
Maoists no longer have any armed squad active in the State. Several Maoists had surrendered after the killing of dreaded Maoist leader Mallojula Koteswar Rao alias Kishanji in 2011.
Indeed, on October 7, 2020, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, asserted that the CPI-Maoist would not make a comeback in the State. The Chief Minister asked the Police to stay alert and ensure that peace prevails in the Jangalmahal region comprising four Districts – Jhargram, Bankura, Purulia and West Midnapore – of the State. The Chief Minister also directed Director General of Police (DGP) Virendra Kumar, to employ various government agencies, to collate information on suspicious activities, if any, in the rural and mofussil areas of erstwhile Maoist strongholds.
Reiterating similar views, on December 22, 2020, the Chief Minister asserted,
There is no Naxal [Left Wing Extremism, LWE] issue. Dooars [the vast region comprising Jalpaiguri, Darjeeling and Cooch Behar Districts of West Bengal] are peaceful. Hills are peaceful. Jangalmahal (Forest) is peaceful.
Indeed, the Maoist insurgency in West Bengal came to a halt following the body blow inflicted on the Maoists with the killing of CPI-Maoist ‘Politburo member’ Mallojula Koteswara Rao aka Kishanji in Burishole forest in West Midnapore District, during an operation on November 24, 2011.
Since the killing of Koteswara Rao, at least 96 Maoists have been arrested. In the most recent incident on September 21, 2020, SFs arrested a wanted Maoist cadre, Ramesh Hembram, carrying a cash reward of INR 50,000 on his head, from Kolkata District. In 2019, two such arrests were made in the State. Another 383 Maoists have surrendered according to State Government data.
The State has accounted for a total of seven Maoist-linked fatalities (two civilians, two SF personnel and three Maoists), since November 24, 2011 (data till March 7, 2021). The last fatality was recorded on August 17, 2013, when Hemanta Mahato, a leader of the Peoples Committee against Police Atrocities (PCPA), a CPI-Maoist front organization, was beaten to death by angry villagers under Jhargram Police Station limits, in West Midnapore District.
During this period – November 24, 2011, to March 7, 2021 – the State witnessed a total of 129 LWE-linked incidents.
Significantly, prior to November 24, 2011, and since March 6, 2000, when SATP started compiling data on LWE, the State recorded 910 LWE-linked incidents, of which 349 were incidents of killing, which resulted in 712 fatalities (526 civilians, 78 SF personnel, 95 Maoists and 13 Not Specified).
In this context, all these developments in recent years indicate the shrinking space of Maoist insurgency in the State.
There are, however, signals that the Maoists have not entirely given up hope, and there are clear indications of their efforts to regroup in West Bengal.
In a September 17, 2020, report, intelligence agencies observed that the Maoists had been trying to regroup in the Jangalmahal region of the State. An unnamed senior Police official noted,
Police and Paramilitary Forces have been deployed in Jungle Mahal areas. Our forces are always aware of any kind of suspected activities. We are collecting intelligence inputs regularly.
Further, a source in the State intelligence department, thus disclosed,
We have already got inputs of Maoists holding secret meetings and they have started the process of regrouping. The activities have been reported in the pockets of Jharkhand bordering areas.
Previously, as reported on September 14, 2019, the Intelligence Bureau (IB) in a report submitted to the State Home Department, observed,
Earlier, we had information that the rebels were spending a few hours at villages and left before the security force personnel rushed there after receiving information. But this time, they are spending nights there and the local police are not getting the information. It indicates that the intelligence network involving local people is not working in favour of the local police… Belpahari Police Station in Jhargram District is now considered as a pocket where Maoists’ presence is heard. We have come to know the rebel leaders are visiting villages like Sakhabhanga, Odolchua, Amlashole and Dhangikushum in Belpahari.
Jhargram is listed by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA) among the 90 Districts spread across 11 States that are LWE-affected.
Jhargram, along with Purulia and West Midnapore Districts in Jangalmahal, also shares a border with Jharkhand which is among the worst LWE-affected States in India.
On September 5, 2020, while reviewing security arrangements in the Jangalmahal region, West Bengal DGP Virendra Kumar stated, “Police will intensify vigil in villages in the region.”
Meanwhile, according to a September 9, 2020, report Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee directed the State Police’s top brass to reactivate the Counter Intelligence Force (CIF) to combat Maoists in the State and to further strengthen the Special Task Force (STF).
After facing reverses across the country, the Maoists are desperate to regain lost ground, and West Bengal is no exception. The Maoists may also attempt to create disturbances during the upcoming State Assembly elections, scheduled to be held in 8-phases between March 27, 2021, and April 29, 2021. To avoid any resurgent threat to the State’s existing peace, SFs need to tighten their grip, particularly in the contiguous border regions that West Bengal shares with other LWE-affected States.
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management