(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
November 30, 2008
PEOPLE REJECT MAOIST THREATS AND OVERTURES IN MIDNAPORE WEST
THE sun was a vast, dusky purple disk whose edges became gradually indistinct as it sank agonisingly slowly into the darkening horizon of 16 October as the forest of Midnapore west abutting Jharkhand came alive with the night sounds. We were at a place near Lalgarh where the Maoists had coerced the poor tribal people of the area to fell trees with cruel blows of the axe and the adze.
The tribals were forced at gun-point to do the abhorrent act that is of utter disgust to the Sorens and the Hembrams, the Majhis and the Tudus, the Murmus and the Hansda, the Mandis and the Sanus- forest dwellers the bulk of them are, living off the forest resources, in the area we were in. Some of them could be seen silently sobbing in the feint light as they dealt the fatal swinging blow to the young Sal trees.
On the road to the haven of a resort Kankrajhor on a tall hilltop, the bustling village cluster around Belpahari, the long stretches of Sal-Pial-Mahul forestry of Salboni, the five-point crossing of roads and pathways at Dahijuri, the straight-as-arrow metalled road that ran onto Belpahari - the roads leading to the emanate township of Jhargram where civic elections are due on November 30, were soon cut off, blocked, blockaded beyond recompense. The Maoists faces shrouded in local hand-woven wipe clothes or gamchhas, gave a devilish hoot, and flaunting shiny new automatic rifles disappeared along tracks well-known to and well-frequented by, them.
For more than 36 hours, the corporate press, too, were in devilish mood and the banner headlines reflected this well enough, if one excused the exudation of political naïveté and of linguistic crudity: ‘a second Nandigram comes up,’ ‘CPM is on its last legs in Midnapore west,’ ‘police atrocities continue to make rebels of tribals,’ and the most popular screaming header, ‘civic elections shall see CPM defeated.’
As we have had occasion to point out the Bengal CPI(M) is a patient lot. We are surely not self-satisfied but we know where the shoe pinches for the rainbow coalition of the right reaction and left sectarianism. Self-critically it is true that the Majhi-Mahato social organisation had not approached the CPI(M) directly beyond interactions with the mass fronts for a long period now. The time had come for the district leadership under guidance of the state secretary to take a step forward in friendship and amity
One day later, we were back to Lalgarh town and we were in the midst of a large meeting of no less than five Majhi-Mahato tribal social organisation representing all the tribal masses of Midnapore west – they through their Jangurus lead and control the tribal groups and ‘sects’- all of the sects and groups. The meting was led by Nityananda Murmu and Munsiram Tudu- highly respected all-India leaders both of the tribal groups. What was the resolution of the meeting?
Three points were raised and resolved. The debate between the outsiders in the tribal area from ‘across the border’ (read the Maoists and their lackeys) and the tribal people must be ended finally and it would be the tribal social organisations that would look to the welfare of their own people, including preservation of forestry and forest resources.
Second, the police raids for escaped Maoists and those of their ilk forcing tribal families to provide them with shelter and hideaway would continue – but each raiding police platoon must be accompanied by a senior Majhi and/or Mahato so that the innocent were spared. This the readers will realise is perhaps the first time that the Maoists have found themselves over-reaching the limit and then having to fall ingloriously on their collective backs after all the tall lies about ‘tribal sympathy.’
Third, and most important, the developmental work for the tribals in the western Bengal laterite zone must be given adequate priority so that the five basic elemental needs of potable water, nutritious food, shelter, education, and both agricultural and non-agricultural development were properly prioritised, plans drawn up, afresh where found so necessary, and implementation speeded up.
The next day, five big social organisations of the tribal people and a few small ones, including the Bharat Jakat Majhi Marhaoa, Bharat Jakat Majhi Jawan Gaoonta, Adivasi Social Education Cultural Association, Adivasi Engineers’ Association, and the powerful all-India Adivasi Santhali Writers’ Association comprising more than fifty persons met the district administration in Midnapore township.
A long three hours discussion followed where sometimes impatience was perceived, especially from the young who vastly outnumbered the elderly like Nityananda and Munsiram. The administrative officials under appropriate instructions kept being level-headed and listened rather than pontificate or talk down – something that the tribal identity is greatly disgusted with everywhere in the country.
The impasse was not allowed to develop. Within half-an-hour, the discussion boiled down to an agreement level. A two-point charter of demands was placed and agreed upon by the contending sides. These are:
The ‘adivasi’ identity- as an identity per se should be used by the union government in place of the generalised holdall term of tribals. The union government must implement this by making a clear mention of the term ‘adivasi’ in a separate column in the census reports to follow. The state government may forward this appropriately keeping the adivasi organisations informed.
The state government may form a special ‘adivasi development board,’ to ‘plan and implement various developmental programmes.’ The board membership may comprise 80 per cent adivasi representatives and 20 per cent government representatives for the ‘development of the Paschimanchal area (western Bengal zone.)’
It was the next day that we were witness to the unfolding of another chapter in the history of Midnapore west. A desperate band of Maoist with pressure from their indigenous and foreign masters organised a secret meeting at Kantapahari off Lodhashuli near Jhargram Township. The dais remained empty as the 200-odd tribals were herded off deep into the jungle, and the nervy Maoists would not even allow their pet corporate media (or is it the other way round) to be present at the meeting.
We went near enough to listen to a terrible ruckus going on for all of a quarter of an hour, and then the men and a few women trooped towards the ‘manch.’ It was announced from there with pomp that the ‘road blockade would continue until the arrested Maoist leaders were not unconditionally released and the cases against them with drawn. The Maoists then disappeared.
What followed was witnessed by us. A large band of angry young men and women, the edge of the axes they carried on their shoulders glinting menacingly in the late afternoon sun (24 hours had passed since the Midnapore town meeting), just marched ahead, took on the first tree lying on it side, lopped off the branches and with a war cry lifted it clean of the road. This went on for more than five hours. We were happy that all roads leading into and out of Jhargram were now clear and that traffic could resume.
As Kanan Mandi, a Gram Panchayat Pradhan of the Jharkhand Party said to us ‘We adivasis shall no longer take orders from the Maoists, and we shall see that development work goes on at an increasing pace for us the poorest of the poor.’
At the same time we received news from the zonal committee secretary of the CPI(M) Jhargram unit that the TU wing of the Jharkhand Party had joined hands with the with the powerful CITU union in a demonstration at a local factory where a lay off had been declared earlier in the day.
Where does all this leave the Maoists and their ‘friendly neighbourhood’ media? Does the question need an answer beyond the assertion that the first important crack has developed in a sensitive region in Bengal amongst one section of the indigenous people and the Maoists on the one hand, and between the Jharkhand Party and the Left sectarians on the other. The following days, weeks, months, and years will certainly see the political consciousness of the toiling masses amongst the tribal area make advances as developmental work proceeds apace. We shall remain optimists.