Former Militants of Banned Outfit Among Those on Election Duty in Darjeeling
Das was among 36 former militants of the KLO who were hired by the Mamata Banerjee-led government as home guard volunteers in July 2018 - the first such initiative to rehabilitate the former militants in the area.
Kolkata: Former militants with the banned outfit Kamtapur Liberation Organisation (KLO) will be a part of the forces deployed in Darjeeling on election duty to ensure free and fair polls, police said.
The organisation, banned by the Union government in 2014, aims to carve out a separate Kamtapur nation from India, comprising of six districts in West Bengal and four in Assam - Cooch Behar, Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri, North and South Dinajpur, Malda, Kokrajhar, Bongaigaon, Dhubri and Goalpara - along with some districts in Bihar. The KLO claims that it was formed to address the issues of unemployment, land alienation and neglect faced by the Koch Rajbongshi people.
Police sources at Alipurduar district said a team has been deployed, which included among its members Mihir Das alias Milton Barman, the erstwhile second in command of the KLO and then chief of the operation squad of the outfit. He had been arrested in 2003 and was released in 2011 on bail.
Sources added Das joined the Alipurduar home guards in 2018. "He and three-four other members of the volunteer home guard force were erstwhile militants. They were rehabilitated by the TMC government."
“The team, police officers confirmed, had left Alipurduar district on Monday for Darjeeling and would then move to Balurghat," a senior police officer said.
Das was among 36 former militants of the KLO who were hired by the Mamata Banerjee-led government as home guard volunteers in July 2018 - the first such initiative to rehabilitate the former militants in the area. Apart from Das, job letters were also given to Madhusudhan Das alias Tarzan - another prominent KLO leader - at the time. The state government recruited the second batch of 21 KLO rebels in October last year.
They had been arrested during the Operation Flushout in 2003-2004 by the Royal Bhutan Army and have since been demanding jobs.
A senior police officer said, "They were provided jobs and have since worked hard in the interest of the society. This initiative by the Chief Minister is better than alienating those with grouses and leading to further tension."
The move, political leaders had pointed out, was one rooted in politics. The Rajbangshi community is a politically significant community in North Bengal - the largest Scheduled Caste group in the state. The BJP has been steadfastly been wooing the community, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union minister Rajnath Singh sharing a stage with Ananta Rai, the self-styled 'Maharaja' of Cooch Behar, a title he had taken upon himself two decades ago. Rai heads a faction of the Greater Cooch Behar People’s Movement Association - a faction of the Cooch Behar movement, also fuelled by the anger of the Rajbangshi community for a separate state.
Ahead of polling in Cooch Behar and Alipurduar in the first phase, flags of the movement were seen at Narendra Modi’s rallies. Rural polls last year saw a section of former militants eventually shunning the TMC and voting instead for the BJP. "This greatly aided the BJP and helped them increase their influence over the area," said a district TMC leader from Jalpaiguri.
Banerjee countered last year, not just with the jobs but also announcing the elevation of Bangshibadan Burman as the chairman of the West Bengal Rajbangshi Development and Cultural Board. The leader, who had been spearheading another faction of the Greater Cooch Behar People's Association.
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