ONE of the issues that repeatedly came up in debates over the Nandigram flare-up was the Maoist role in the tumultuous events in that rural part of West Bengal. The Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led government in the State has maintained that the Bhumi Uchhed Pratirodh Committee (BUPC)- Trinamool Congress combine, which organised the nearly year-long agitation against the State government’s land acquisition plans, was infiltrated by cadre of the Communist Party of India (Maoist) and that the Maoists had trained BUPC-Trinamool cadre to mount armed attacks against the Police and CPI(M) activists.
The role of the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress in the Nandigram events has been highlighted by the CPI(M) leadership as a clear instance of a mainstream party colluding with an extremist outfit that has been named by a number of national security agencies as well as by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as the “biggest threat to the country”. The Trinamool leadership, for its part, stated that there was no truth in the CPI(M)’s contention.
The issue of collusion between mainstream political organisations and Maoists and the utilisation of extremist cadre by leaders of self-professed democratic parties to advance their political and personal interests is increasingly coming into the focus in the context of the Nandigram developments. A series of happenings in Jharkhand, the State adjacent to West Bengal and one of the areas seriously affected by naxalite violence, barely three weeks after the Nandigram flare-up have accentuated this. The developments in the State have even led to demands from several quarters for a detailed, high-level probe into the collusion between Maoists and leaders of mainstream parties.
Central to the happenings in Jharkhand on this front was the arrest of CPI(Maoist) leader Balswarup Yadav alias Sridhar Ji on November 30. Balswarup Yadav is apparently an “area commander” of the military wing of the CPI(Maoist) and is an accused in several cases of murder, arson and dacoity in Jharkhand and Bihar. The arrest was a cause for celebration for the Jharkhand Police, and Superintendent of Police Deepak Verma paraded him at a media conference on December 2. At the conference, Balswarup Yadav stated in no uncertain terms that several Members of Parliament and the Legislative Assembly of Jharkhand and Bihar as well as top-level leaders of many political parties were in regular contact with the leadership and cadre of CPI(Maoist) and sought their help to advance their political and personal interests. Many MLAs and MPs even used Maoist cadre to garner votes and win elections, he added.
Balswarup Yadav also came up with an oblique, yet outrageous, revelation about Kamlesh Kumar Singh, Minister for Water Resources in the Jharkhand government. He said that he had heard one of his comrades saying that Kamlesh Kumar had employed Maoist cadre to blow up his own ancestral house at Kamgarpur in Palamu district. The incident happened 20 months ago, on April 20, 2006. Kamlesh Kumar belongs to the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and has been a Minister in both the Arjun Munda-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-Janata Dal (United) coalition government and after its collapse, in the Madhu Koda-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) Ministry.
When the Arjun Munda government was formed, he went against the NCP’s general anti-BJP line and joined hands with the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). By the time the Munda government fell, he had come back to the NCP’s anti-BJP, secular line and got himself a berth in the UPA Ministry in the State.
The scandalous reference about the Minister was further explained by Balswarup Yadav. He said that the talk amongst the Maoist cadre was that the Minister had engineered this “self-destruction” to intensify the threat perception of threat to him and thus get greater protection for himself from the State security agencies. An added threat perception, apparently, would have provided the Minister with the right to use the State government’s helicopter during visits to his constituency. In the North Indian political firmament, a political leader’s VIP status is often gauged by the security cover he has. Although Yadav did not mention it in so many words, he was obviously hinting at this.
Balswarup Yadav’s revelations, naturally, had a stirring effect on Jharkhand’s political atmosphere. Opposition parties and some partners of the UPA raised questions about the Minister’s integrity. Organisations such as the Jharkhand Vikas Morcha, led by former Chief Minister Babulal Marandi, who lost his son in a Maoist attack barely a month ago, stated that Kamlesh Kumar had no moral authority to hold a constitutional office. The Jharkhand Mukthi Morcha (JMM), the dominant component of the ruling coalition, as well as the Opposition BJP and JD(U) demanded a high-level probe into Balswarup Yadav’s revelations and also into the larger context in which they were made.
Interestingly, Kamlesh Kumar Singh himself made a similar demand. Speaking to Frontline, he said he wanted a thorough investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). The Minister said that he had met Chief Minister Madhu Koda and pointed out that Balswarup Yadav’s revelations were part of a conspiracy to malign his image. He added that Balswarup Yadav as well as the Maoist rank and file controlled by him were at the beck and call of Sanjay Kumar Yadav, leader of the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) in Palamu district. According to Kamlesh Singh, the Yadav duo have been trying for long to harm him physically and politically. Sanjay Kumar Yadav, incidentally, was the candidate defeated by Kamlesh Kumar Singh – by 34 votes – in the Hussainabad constituency in the last Assembly elections.
Since the elections, Kamlesh Singh said, Sanjay Kumar Yadav had been systematically using the Maoist cadre to harm him. Kamlesh Singh also asked, rather rhetorically, whether any sane person would have his property worth approximately Rs.45 lakh blown up merely to get enhanced security cover. In any case, he added, he had the right to use a helicopter to go to his constituency and did not have to resort to blowing up his own ancestral house to obtain that facility.
The statements made by Kamlesh Singh and Balswarup Yadav leave no doubt that collusion between Maoist parties and mainstream politicians is a way of life in Jharkhand. Commenting on the sequence of events, Inder Singh Namdhari, JD(U) leader and former Speaker of the Jharkhand Assembly, told Frontline that politicians of almost all categories in Jharkhand had to come to accept the Maoist influence in their day-to-day activities. According to him, the number of politicians who actively dare to oppose Maoist political practice and guerilla warfare can be counted on the fingers of one hand.
The remaining vast majority of politicians, he adds, can be broadly placed in two categories. “One section of politicians who still have faith and belief in the democratic political practice stay away from the Maoists, without criticising or supporting them. Theirs is a stay-aloof policy. The other section is actually hand in glove with Maoists on a day-to-day basis. They do their political activity in constant consultation with the Maoists and with their active support. This support extends from garnering votes in elections to eliminating political and personal rivals,” he says. Namdhari adds that the number of politicians in the latter category is increasing day by day.
There are many other legislators who agree with Namdhari. The former Speaker’s colleague in the JD(U), Khiro Mahto, admitted to Frontline that Maoists had forced him to ask certain questions in the Assembly. Naturally, these questions would have helped advance Maoist politics and action plans. According to MLA Radha Krishna Kishore, the majority of government contracts in infrastructure building – particularly contracts that come under the Public Works Department, such as road and bridge building – can be carried out only after Maoist clearance. “The rebels want our development fund to be utilised according to their wishes. And PWD work in any area can be completed only if the local Maoist group is paid protection money at various stages of work. In short, it is Lal Salam that works here, not Jai Hind,” Kishore said.
Namdhari is of the opinion that the mainstream politicians who operate along with the ultras have contributed in a major way to the persisting backwardness of Jharkhand. He observes: “These people have no perspective beyond their immediate political gains. They do not realise that the ultras need to be convinced and brought back into the mainstream for the overall uplift of the State. But they compromise with Naxalites and use them, ultimately, to cover up their own corrupt practices and also to make short-term benefits.”
In Namdhari’s opinion, Nandigram and several other parts of West Bengal could go the Jharkhand way if sufficient care is not taken. He lays stress on what he means by sufficient care. It is that mainstream political parties and their leadership should not fall prey to the lure of short-term political gains and compromise with the Maoists and their armed struggle tactics. Unlike many of his colleagues in the NDA, Namdhari is certain that naxalites would have infiltrated the BUPC. “That is their style of functioning. They are experts in following this strategy,” Namdhari pointed out.
According to Hanan Mollah, a member of the CPI(M) Central Committee and of the Lok Sabha, the Trinamool Congress, a former partner of the JD(U) in the NDA, is in no mood to listen to his advice. He notes: “The Trinamool is hand in glove with the Maoists in several parts of West Bengal. Nandigram, in fact, is only one of the examples. In the past, CPI(M) cadre in West Bengal have had to fight this collusion and also illegal occupation of land and property in many other parts of the State. These struggles were not noticed because they were not packaged with an emotive issue such as land acquisition for industry. Since that issue was in the background and because sections of the media and some social activists took it forward at an emotive level, the BUPC-Trinamool Congress-Maoist alliance donned a victim’s garb and were able, to a large extent, to get away with it.” Hanan Mollah is certain that the Trinamool-Maoist collusion would get exposed further in the days to come.
Maoist cadre in different parts of North India, including Jharkhand and Bihar, are excited that their activities are getting stronger in different parts of West Bengal. According to an assessment made by a section of the Maoist cadre in Jharkhand, a geographical belt in West Bengal ranging from Asansol to Bankura and parts of Midnapore is witnessing a new political phenomenon marked by Maoist resurgence.
So much so that the CPI(Maoist) and its front organisations have become the principal opposition to the CPI(M) in this region, overtaking all mainstream Opposition parties such as the Trinamool Congress, the BJP and the Congress. How much of these gains have been made employing the strategy of infiltrating into and colluding with mainstream parties may require yet another probe as the one suggested for Jharkhand.