Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Rising ambitions of India's Maoists

Maoist rebels took control of a tribal area in India's West Bengal state for nearly eight months before a security offensive forced them out last month. Subir Bhaumik on why the rebels chose to wrest control of Lalgarh and their future plans.

Why did India's Maoist rebels end up taking over a tribal-dominated area barely 250km from the eastern Indian city of Calcutta?

The Communist state government lost control of Lalgarh in West Midnapore district last November. It took all of eight months and paramilitary troops to drive out the rebels from the area late last month.

Lalgarh, an embattled forest enclave on the borders of the eastern Indian states of West Bengal and Jharkhand, has been described as "the second Naxalbari" by Maoist leaders.

This indicates how important it was for them to take control of this tribal-dominated area.

Naxalbari, the site of India's Maoist-inspired uprising in 1967, is now a sleepy village in West Bengal bordering Nepal. It is inhabited by smugglers or struggling tea garden workers.


The only thing that is common between Naxalbari and Lalgarh is that both have predominantly tribal populations who are alienated and have not benefitted from the land reforms of the Marxist government.

"The tribals in Bengal's Junglemahal area (in which Lalgarh falls) have been completely alienated because in the last 30 years, they have got nothing from the Communist coalition government here. The Communist rulers have taken the tribals for granted," says Ranabir Sammadar, director of the Calcutta Research Group, who has worked on the area.

Maoist leader Kishenji claimed in a BBC interview that the mass movement in Lalgarh against "oppression of the establishment Left and its police" has given them a major base in West Bengal for the first time since the Naxalite uprising was crushed in the mid-1970s.

"We have 1,100 villages with us in the movement. The resistance they have offered in the face of massive state-led coercion has given us much hope, as did the mass boycott of the parliament polls in the area," he said.

"For the first time since the Naxalite movement, we have struck a place which is the weakest spot of the state and which automatically makes it our stronghold."

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