In the wake of presence of alleged Maoists in Jangalmahal and sensing that “outsiders" may create law and order problems ahead of the state polls next year, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has asked the Director General of Police to stress upon the Counter Intelligence Force (CIF), Special Task Force (STF) and the Cyber Crime Cells to prevent “conspirators" from maligning the state’s image.
The decision came after villagers at Belpahari in Jhargram woke up on August 15 to find Maoist posters asking them to observe “Independence Day as a black day".
On August 27, some unknown persons had also opened fire at the house of a local LPG dealer at Ponchapani village under Belpahari police station. The LPG dealer told police that he received an extortion note of Rs 2 lakh in July from some unknown people suspected as Maoists. Local inquiry revealed similar notes were also received by two other traders in the same village.
So far, officially it has not been proved that Maoists are regrouping in Bengal but it seems the state government is not willing to entertain any law and order problem in the state, which could hamper its development.
Not the least, Banerjee’s initiative to ramp up policing comes amid “objectionable" and “fake" social media posts that could instigate communal problems.
While observing ‘Police Day’ on September 9, Banerjee said, “There are people who are playing hide and seek through controversial social media posts. Such illegal acts can instigate communal problems. If misused, social media is the most dangerous weapon to divide people. I would like to ask my Cyber Crime Cell to work more on this."
Expressing concern over fake social media posts, she said, “An IT cell of a political party is spreading rumours that we are not allowing people to celebrate Durga Puja in Bengal this year. I have been hearing this since this morning. This is absolutely false and shocking. I would like to instruct the concerned police department to take stern action against the person who is spreading this fake news. I would like to tell that person to prove his claim or be ready to hold your ear and do the sit-ups in front of the public. And, if you can prove your claims then, I will hold my ears and do 100 sit-ups."
On the Maoist scare, she said, “Some people went to Belpahari (in Jhargram) as a tourist and falsely claimed that their mobile phones were snatched away by the Maoists. I personally sent the DGP to the spot to inquire. I want DGP to submit a detailed report on that."
While ruling out the possibility of Maoists regrouping, Banerjee asked senior bureaucrats to pay surprise visits to Ayodhya Pahar (a safe heaven for Maoists during the tenure of Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee) in Purulia. Without divulging much, she said, “The DGP and other senior officers are present here. Something is happening there (Ayodhya Pahar). Pay surprise visits and also keep an eye on the bordering areas."
Jangalmahal mainly consists of the districts of West Midnapore, Bankura, Birbhum and Purulia. This is primarily a tribal belt and from 2008 to 2011 was badly affected due to the strong Maoist presence.
The situation was so bad that once Jhargram was declared a “liberated zone" by the Maoists as the police failed to enter villages due to their terror. During these years, several people including paramilitary jawans were killed.
The Maoist movement suffered a major setback following the killing of M Koteshwar Rao, better known as Kishenji, the CPI Maoist leader who spearheaded the movement there. He was killed in an encounter on November 24, 2011.
Bengal BJP president Dilip Ghosh had alleged that the Trinamool Congress is spreading fear in Jangalmahal ahead of the 2021 Assembly polls. “They know they will not win in the upcoming state polls, so they secure the release of one Maoist (hinting at Chhatradhar Mahato, the key man behind the tribal movement in Lalgarh from 2008 to 2011)," he had said.
On September 26, 2009, Mahato was arrested by the state Criminal Investigation Department (CID) from Pirka village in Lalgarh in Jhargram on charges of an abortive bid on the life of former Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee at Kantapahari on November 2, 2008. He was released from prison on February 1 this year. He was the convener of the People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities (PCAPA) and came into the limelight following a blast in Salboni in November 2008.
Mahato still has a significant number of followers in Jangalmahal and if he contests the upcoming polls, he could disturb the political arithmetic of the BJP camp.
Once a Maoist stronghold, Jangalmahal’s substantial vote bank of the Left Front has pushed the saffron brigade ahead of the ruling TMC in recent years. This helped the BJP to secure 18 of the 42 Lok Sabha seats in Bengal.
As per statistics from the Election Commission of India (ECI), even though the BJP lost in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections to the ruling TMC, the vote percentage of the saffron brigade has increased significantly to 20% in Jangalmahal districts. Similarly, in the 2018 Panchayat election the BJP increased its vote share by 27% in the districts as the TMC suffered massive setbacks in Jhargram, Purulia and Bankura.
But in the last few months, the TMC has aggressively managed to regain its lost ground in “refugee" and tribal-dominated areas in Jangalmahal, while the BJP has struggled with Muslim votes and the Centre’s decision to implement CAA and NRC.