BENGAL’S WATERLOO: Operation Mamatagarh rolls Appeal to use car with shield – a political solution in the offing at last ?!!
FROM THE TELEGRAPH BUREAU
WITH INPUTS FROM PRONAB MONDAL,
NARESH JANA AND KINSUK BASU
Aug. 8: Spy cameras and CCTV on trees and bamboo poles, snipers on rooftops, two rings of security — now the question is, will Mamata Banerjee agree to a bullet-proof car?
The state government has turned Lalgarh, where Mamata will hold her “apolitical” rally tomorrow, into a fortress. Now it is trying to persuade her to use a bullet-proof car when she travels to the venue tomorrow.
The Trinamul Congress chief has so far spurned the bullet-proof car the state police have provided her. Senior officers tried to convince her close aides this evening that since she might be passing through the dense Jhitka forests, it would be prudent to use the protected car.
“A meeting of this scale would prompt Maoist squads from the adjoining states to try to enter in the guise of rallyists. So we don’t want to take chances,” said a senior officer as he oversaw a mine-detection drill in Jungle Mahal.
A close Mamata aide said tonight that the railway minister had left for Kolaghat in an ordinary car. “Tomorrow morning, she will decide whether to use a bullet-proof car for the rest of the journey.”
The joint forces have established “domination” over stretches of 20km along each of the three roads from Midnapore town to Lalgarh, passing through Pirakata or Dherua or Goaltore. Mamata is likely to take the route via Pirakata.
Some 2,500 security personnel have been deployed at the venue — a school ground — and the roads. An officer said a team of handpicked sharpshooters would be part of the “inner ring” around Mamata in Lalgarh, helping create a “sterile zone” and allowing in only those authorised to be on the dais. The second ring, within 400m of the venue, will be manned by CRPF men in battle fatigues.
“We will place spy cameras and closed-circuit TVs on trees and at various corners of the school building. We’ll also tie cameras and CCTVs to bamboo poles. At least 20 joint forces personnel will keep vigil from the school’s roof with sniper rifles,” a police officer said.
Police, in uniform or in plainclothes, will guard the routes armed with mine detectors and “trace explosive detection devices” that can spot any explosive inside luggage of any kind without opening it.
All vehicles are being stopped and searched in front of the four CRPF camps on the Pirakata-Lalgarh road — at Patharkumkumi, Changashol, Pirakata and Bhimpur — West Midnapore police chief Manoj Verma said.
Police sources said the Maoists were asking villagers to march to Lalgarh in large numbers and attend the rally.
The newly appointed secretary of the People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities, Manoj Mahato, said: “We will provide so many people that not only will the Lalgarh school ground be packed to capacity but a large number of people will be forced to remain outside. Tomorrow, the administration will realise how strong the People’s Committee still is.”
Following a meeting between Bengal police chief Bhupinder Singh and U.K. Bansal, the special secretary (internal security), in Delhi last week, it was decided that Mamata would be given the “highest form of security cover” during the rally.
She will be provided with two personal security officers and two escort cars. There will, however, be no surveillance from the air.
An officer said the Maoists might strike at the forces in areas from where some of the personnel have been shifted to Lalgarh for the rally.
Rao frown for Mamata – Cong leader to attend simultaneous Tamluk rally – the chicken and egg situation ?!!
FROM THE TELEGRAPH SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
Calcutta, Aug. 8: Mamata Banerjee is “unhappy” that AICC general secretary Keshav Rao has “turned down” an invite to attend her Lalgarh rally tomorrow so he can be present at a simultaneous Congress event in Tamluk.
The Trinamul Congress chief had last week requested Rao, the Congress central leadership’s minder in Bengal, to accompany her to Lalgarh to be a part of her “apolitical” rally.
“Didi was expecting Rao at the Lalgarh programme since she had personally requested him to be present. But she was unhappy to learn that the AICC leader would skip the rally to be part of a Congress event in Tamluk,” a Trinamul general secretary said in Calcutta after Mamata met her aides this evening for updates on the Lalgarh rally.
Rao, however, said from Hyderabad that he had initially planned to attend both the rallies. “But I was told by our state Congress leaders that the rallies would be held at almost the same time and it would be impossible to attend both. So I was left with no option but to attend our meeting at Tamluk,” Rao told The Telegraph.
The AICC leader said he would send a message to Mamata expressing his inability to attend her programme because of “unavoidable circumstances”.
Subhendu Adhikari, the Trinamul MP from Tamluk, refused to buy Rao’s argument. “As a senior AICC leader, Rao should have stayed away from the Tamluk rally, which Manas (state Congress chief Manas Bhuniya) has planned to counter our meeting in Lalgarh. Rao’s presence at our meeting would have sent a positive message to his party ranks and underlined the need for a Congress-Trinamul alliance ahead of the Assembly polls next year,” Adhikari said.
Asked if the Tamluk rally was a ploy by Bhuniya to counter the Trinamul event and try to gain a foothold in East Midnapore where the Congress has been cornered by Mamata’s men, Rao replied in the negative.
“The Tamluk rally was planned three months ago while Mamataji’s meeting was announced only on July 21. So it will be incorrect to say that our rally is aimed at countering her meeting. I will convey this message to her when we meet next time,” he said.
Rao said he believed the Tamluk rally would not jeopardise the alliance with Trinamul. “We may have tied up with Mamataji to counter the CPM in Bengal but that does not mean that we cannot organise party programmes individually.”
Union finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, who was in Calcutta today, refused comment on the Tamluk rally.
However, the Congress, worried about filling up the rally ground, has reportedly requested CPI supporters in Tamluk to attend the event. Tamluk is represented by a CPI MLA.
Karat’s poll dialectic: defeat not unnatural – and justice still denied ?!!
FROM THE TELEGRAPH
BY J.P. YADAV
Vijayawada, Aug. 8: If the Bengal CPM was looking forward to some pep talk on a day Mamata Banerjee was preparing to sweep into a zone that has remained beyond the state government’s footprints, Prakash Karat would not oblige.
“Defeat in elections is not something unnatural. We don’t judge everything on whether we win or lose elections,” Karat declared today in Vijayawada, where the CPM is holding an extended session of its central committee.
The general secretary did allow himself a faint smile as he fielded a question whether the string of defeats in Bengal and other states was a reflection of the policies being adopted by the party.
Karat then held forth on why the party should take election defeats in its stride, something the leadership that does not contest popular polls can afford to say but not the Bengal unit which is facing daunting odds as next year’s elections approach.
The CPM chief said the party had been witnessing defeats in other parts of the country as well. “It looks unnatural with regard to Bengal since we have not lost since 1977,” said Karat, who has accommodated some concerns of the Bengal unit by picking out the Trinamul Congress as the main enemy and sparing the Congress in the state.
But Karat’s view on election results was perceived here as a reassertion of his “defeatist” attitude towards Bengal. Earlier this year, Karat had told British Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm that the CPM felt “besieged” and “beleaguered” in Bengal and expected to do “very badly” in the Assembly elections.
Although Karat had later denied having predicted defeat, his latest assertion suggests that for the CPM boss, the heavens wouldn’t fall if the party loses in Bengal and Kerala.
Party leaders appeared surprised over Karat’s remarks and feared that it would further dampen the morale of cadres in the poll-bound states. One Bengal leader felt that Karat’s “over-assertive puritanical” stand could well be part of his defence mechanism against those who hold him responsible for the poll reverses.
Several delegates said Karat appeared to be in a “denial mode”, refusing to go in for “self-criticism” and “introspection”. “He is trying to emphasise ideology over electoral politics,” said a delegate. He wondered how ideology can be augmented in a parliamentary democracy if the party cannot persuade people to vote for its candidates.
Karat feebly acknowledged some mistakes in implementing the political line decided at the last party congress but iterated that the decision to withdraw support to UPA I over the nuclear deal was right. “The decision to withdraw support was unanimously ratified by the central committee,” said Karat, who, by now, was beaming.
“If the decision was right, how did the Congress improve its poll performance from 2004? Were the voters wrong then?” asked a delegate in private.
Some leaders feared that the defeatist approach would push the Left to the fringe of politics. The CPM’s isolation finds reflection in the draft political resolution as well.
Along with advocating the need to attack the Congress and oppose the BJP, it underscores how even the regional parties are “opportunistic”. “If we shun everyone, we will be left to fend for ourselves. If comrade Surjeet and Jyoti Basu brought us into the centre of Indian politics, Karat is trying to drag us away,” said a central committee leader.
Karat nod to Bengal line on Congress – step by step, row by row; getting what’s coming ?!!
FROM THE TELEGRAPH
BY ANINDYA SENGUPTA
Vijayawada, Aug. 8: In a nod to the Bengal CPM’s position again, Prakash Karat today dubbed the state Congress the lesser enemy and said the fight in Bengal should be against the Trinamul Congress.
Asked about his silence on the Bengal Congress in the draft political resolution he had placed at the extended central committee session yesterday, the CPM general secretary said: “The Congress in West Bengal is a very junior partner. Moreover, they are not attacking us in that state.’’
He added: “It’s not a question of maintaining silence. Trinamul Congress is the main target for us in Bengal. They are spearheading the common coalition against us. Trinamul, along with the Maoists, are leading the attacks on CPM men in Bengal.”
Sources said Karat, who delivered a nearly one-hour speech at today’s session, had touched on the Bengal unit’s advocacy of a tactical line that seeks to drive a wedge into the Opposition alliance by courting the Congress on issues. The draft political resolution had ripped into the Centre.
Sources said the “very junior partner’’ remark did not mean Karat saw the Congress as a lightweight in Bengal.
A central committee member said: “Our party is discussing a political and a tactical line. Tactics are necessary to fight elections. The 2011 polls are a big challenge. So, courting the state Congress on certain issues will be the best strategy. That’s why, Karat didn’t want to attack the state Congress and hence described it as a very junior partner.”
The CPM will adopt a separate resolution on Bengal tomorrow whose focus, Karat said, would be on countering “TMC and the ultras (Maoists)”.
Bengal land reforms minister Abdur Rezzak Mollah told the conclave the process of land acquisition for industry in the state was wrong. “Our government should have talked to the affected people…. As this was not done, the people gradually moved away from us.”
CPM state secretariat member Sridip Bhattacharyya raised the withdrawal of support to UPA I. He said: “We failed to explain to the people why support was withdrawn. It led to the electoral reverses. Besides, some policies of the Left Front government were seen by the Bengal electorate as anti-people.”
Funds plan for rebel-hit 35 – paving the streets, but still not understand the ‘hearts and minds’ ?!!
FROM THE TELEGRAPH SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
New Delhi, Aug. 8: The Union government is working on a plan to bolster infrastructure in at least 35 districts affected by Left-wing extremism, among them Bengal’s West Midnapore, to douse the influence of Maoists.
The districts, spread across nine states, will receive up to Rs 50 crore each every year to add infrastructure aimed at improving the quality of life of local communities, under the plan discussed yesterday at a government meeting that was attended by Union home minister P. Chidambaram.
A team of several district-level officials in charge of public infrastructure, education, health and forest management would be tasked with designing the programmes to spend the funds in a manner tailored to specific needs of the local communities.
In Chidambaram’s words, the programme could bring about a “remarkable change in the quality of life” for the local communities.
The funds, Chidambaram said, could be used to deliver primary education, health services, water, sanitation, and connectivity.
Several districts in Bihar — Arwal, Aurangabad, Gaya, Jamui, Jehanabad, and Rohtas — are among the 35 labelled as critically affected by Left-wing extremism. Other affected districts are also expected to receive funds under the plan.
Environment and forests minister Jairam Ramesh said his ministry would ensure that the forest conservation act did not pose any constraint on expanding public infrastructure in the Maoist-infested districts.
The meeting of the national conference on forestry administration in Maoist-dominated areas was organised by Ramesh’s ministry.
The environment ministry also plans to introduce a “community foresters” programme under which residents of an area in a rebel-infested forest zone would be recruited for short-term employment in forest management activities, a senior official said.
Several district forest officials complained that the government freeze on recruitment and abolition of frontline junior forest administration staff was contributing to unemployment among the youth in the rebel-affected areas.
“Even if they are school dropouts, they could help with many kinds of activities that forest work demands,” a senior official said.
But a rural development specialist told the conference that some special gesture may be needed to build the trust of local communities before new development programmes are provided in Maoist-affected regions.
“There is a serious trust deficit,” said Ajay Dandekar, associate professor at the Institute of Rural Management, Ahmedabad, whose group has toured areas across several rebel-infested zones in Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Orissa. “We believe that insensitivity towards tribals at the level of district administration coupled with the development gap has created space for Naxalism,” Dandekar said.
“Whether it’s because of indifference or callousness or other government priorities, tribals have not gained at all — despite our boast of about 8 per cent growth,” said N.C. Saxena, a former administrator and chairperson of a joint committee of the ministries of environment and tribal affairs. In some districts in central India, Saxena told the meeting, the literacy rate among Scheduled Tribe women was less than five per cent. “There’s no explanation or attempt to analyse why this is the situation,” Saxena said. “The new-found focus on tribal issues appears driven by the interest in mining and the violence from the Maoists.”
Top Maoist held in Nawadih – where one is replaced by another ?!!
FROM THE TELEGRAPH
BY SHASHANK SHEKHAR
Bokaro, Aug. 8: A joint operation by Bokaro police and CRPF personnel led to the arrest of top Maoist leader J. Narsimha Reddy alias Jampanna alias Gaganna (45) and four others from Rallivera village of Nawadih block, about 76km from Bokaro steel city, late last night.
Reddy carried a reward of Rs 10 lakh on his head and is wanted in a number of cases in Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Orissa.
A member of the CPI(Maoist) central military commission, Reddy was arrested from a hut he had shifted into barely a week ago in the Uparghat zone.
A laptop, a 9mm pistol, 10 cartridges and some documents related to Naxalite operations in Jharkhand, Bengal, Orissa and Chhattisgarh were seized from him.
Though the police claimed that Reddy was arrested late last night, sources said he and two others were actually arrested four days ago after a two-month-long hunt by the Bokaro police. He had been difficult to track as he changed hideouts often and almost never used any communication device.
The sources added that Reddy suffered a knee injury during a recent police operation in East Singhbhum, where he had gone with his men to help Kundan Pahan. After getting hurt, he managed to escape to Nawadih where he was undergoing treatment.
Reddy’s arrest was the third most significant catch by the Bokaro police in the last three years. The force was successful in nabbing Pramod Mishra in June 2008 from Dhanbad and then Mohammad Hussain alias Anna from Chas in February 2009. Anna too carried a reward of Rs 10 lakh.
Speaking about Reddy’s arrest, Bokaro SP Saket Singh said he played a key role in planning attacks on security forces in Orissa and Chhattisgarh.
Commandant of CRPF’s 26th Battalion S.H.M.I. Malik said Reddy was working on his laptop when the security forces zeroed in on him.
Confirming the arrest, North Chotanagpur IG Manoj Mishra said more arrests would follow once Reddy started talking.
Reddy’s wife was reportedly a top Naxalite in neighbouring Chhattisgarh.
Maoist in net – like fish in the sea ?!!
Bokaro, Aug. 8: A joint operation by Bokaro police and the CRPF led to the arrest of Maoist leader J. Narsimha Reddy and four others in Jharkhand today.
Reddy, a CPI (Maoist) central military commission member, carried a reward of Rs 10 lakh on his head and was wanted by the police in Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Orissa.