|THE BUNGALOW THAT A COMRADE BUILT|
|A two-storeyed house being built by CPM Lalgarh zonal committee secretary Anuj Pandey and his relatives became the symbol of what the Maoists termed “exploitation of peasants” and was partly demolished. Villagers converged on the house in Dharampur, beating drums and chanting: “Come and watch how a zamindar’s house made with money sucked from poor peasants is being demolished.”Then they started breaking down parts of the house. The first-floor balcony railing was ripped out, the boundary wall on the roof demolished, the marble floor dug up and all doors and windows were smashed. Pandey, along with his two brothers, owns 40 bighas in the area — an enviable possession in a district where Bengal’s poorest of the poor live.
Pandey, a CPM wholetimer who earns Rs 1,500 a month, said he was building the house along with his brothers, one of whom deals in agri-products business. “The house is not yet complete,” Pandey said.
“They targeted my house because I stood up to the Maoists and stopped their advance beyond Lalgarh.”
With dusk descending, the villagers suspended the demolition.“We’ll complete it later,” Maoist Lalgarh leader Bikash said.
Picture: Swarup Mondal
Lalgarh, June 15: Bengal police today deserted Dharampur, leaving the 30-year bastion of the CPM to the mercy of Maoists who unleashed a rampage apparently in the making at least since 2007.
The Maoists had a free run of the West Midnapore village through the day, tearing down party and police establishments before withdrawing to their staging post in Lalgarh that is out of bounds for law-enforcement.
The stage was set for the Maoist rampage when police personnel posted in camps on the outskirts of Lalgarh deserted their posts late last night following the murder of three CPM activists in Dharampur, around 11km from Lalgarh town.
“We have no orders to open fire. So we had no option but to get away,” said a policeman who had left the Dharampur camp. “If we had been confronted by the armed Maoists, what could we have done? In areas they dominate, they are surrounded by hundreds of villagers. So even if we had flouted orders and fired in self-defence, unarmed villagers may have been killed.”
Around midnight last night, 320 policemen left their camps in Dharampur, Ramgarh (which falls in Lalgarh), Belatikuti and Koima.
The field clear, thousands of villagers from Lalgarh, where the police have been unable to enter since November 2008, this morning swept into areas known as CPM strongholds.
Under the supervision of armed CPI (Maoist) cadres, the villagers burnt down the police camps at Ramgarh and Koima and partly demolished the home of a CPM leader. (Picture and details in box)
Around 50 armed Maoists, carrying mostly .303 rifles snatched from policemen and single-barrel rifles, were part of the hordes that marched into Dharampur after the police left. None of the known leaders of the People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities, the outfit spearheading the villagers’ protest, could be spotted among the crowd.
“So far, we had kept ourselves restricted to Lalgarh, but now we are making other areas here a part of the liberated zone,” said Bikash, who is in charge of the operations of the Maoists in Lalgarh. “This had been part of our long-term plan and now is the time to put the plan into operation.”
An AK-47 slung across his shoulder, Bikash oversaw the
demolition operations today.
But those supposed to enforce the law appeared to be cut off from the ground. Arnab Ghosh, the deputy superintendent of police, operations, based in Lalgarh and in charge of all these camps, said: “I was not aware of this (the desertion of police posts). I only got to know of it at 1 this morning, an hour after they had left their posts.”
“Our victory lies in getting hold of Dharampur, which has been a CPM stronghold for over 30 years,” Bikash said.
“In West Midnapore, we first consolidated our base in Belpahari, Banspahari and then Bhulabheda,” he added. “By 2007, once we were on a sure footing in these areas, we decided to move into neighbouring Lalgarh and begin working among the people.”
In a year, the Maoists had covered “reasonable” ground, but were still waiting to bring the area in its complete grip. The “spark” was provided in November 2008 by police atrocities after a mine explosion on the chief minister’s route.
“We grabbed it. The issue helped generate a lot of goodwill for us in Lalgarh,” Bikash said. “Having stopped the police from entering the area, we brought in members of our action squad from Jharkhand and Orissa and we have trained about 400 youths of Lalgarh in handling arms.”
The next “logical step” for the Maoists was to extend their reach. The choice was the CPM stronghold of Dharampur, which was putting up “maximum” resistance to the Maoists. “Last week, we had heard that the CPM there was getting arms and outsiders to fight us. So we jumped to strike,” Bikash said.
Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee did not comment in public, though the government’s hands-off policy came under attack from Left politicians.
Chief secretary Asok Mohan Chakrabarti said “everything possible” was being done. Told about the burning down of the Dharampur CPM office, he said: “Ask the party.”
The house of a communist party leader was attacked
Hundreds of Maoists backed by thousands of villagers have seized the ruling party’s last stronghold in a troubled part of India’s West Bengal state.
Armed rebels are reportedly patrolling roads around the village of Dharampur in the Lalgarh area after police fled. Three people were killed, reports say.
Rebels have been entrenching themselves in Lalgarh since last November and now have almost total control of the area.
Maoist-linked violence has killed 6,000 people in India over the past 20 years.
The rebels operate in more than 180 districts across east and central India and are seen as a major threat to national security. Last week more than 20 police were killed in the eastern state of Jharkand.
The Maoists say they represent the rights of landless farmhands and tribal communities.
The BBC’s Amitabha Bhattasali in Calcutta said that as hundreds of workers from the state’s ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPI(M), fled the Lalgarh area, Maoists claimed it as their first “liberated” zone in West Bengal.
Communist party offices ablaze – rebels are in virtual control of Lalgarh
One of the police posts was later set ablaze and the Maoists were reported to have demolished the house of a local communist leader.
“The Maoists went on a rampage yesterday in Dharampur village and ransacked our zonal secretary’s home and party office before setting it on fire. Three of our men are dead and six more still missing,” a CPI(M) official said.
The village of Dharampur was the last bastion for the ruling communist party in Lalgarh. Other villages in the area had been under Maoist control since November.
Our correspondent says that taking control of Lalgarh is part of a long-term plan for the Maoists.
The area encompasses vast tracts of the forests of West Midnapur, Purulia and Bankura districts of West Bengal and adjoins parts of the states of Jharkhand and Orissa.
Lalgarh has experienced considerable unrest for a number of months.
The violence began last November when police arrested some local residents on suspicion of attempting to assassinate the chief minister of West Bengal state, Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, after he narrowly escaped a landmine explosion set off by suspected Maoist rebels.
A Peoples’ Committee against Police Atrocities (PCPA) was subsequently formed to protest against the arrests. They launched violent protests and strikes against the local police.
The police and state administration have been virtually non-existent in most of Lalgarh since then. Polling booths could not be set up for recent general elections so voters had to cast ballots outside the area.
Our correspondent says the insurgents and the CPI(M), which has been the state’s dominant political force, have been fighting a turf war.
In the past few years, he says, the Maoists have extended their influence with guerrilla commanders camping in the area and providing basic military training to local youths.