Before November 2008, Lalgarh was just another obscure village, 42 kilometers from the Midnapore railway station. But if you scratch beneath the surface you would find a simmering anger in this the poverty-stricken and tribal-dominated forestland
The state didn't wither away in Lalgarh, it just wasn't ever there. In the last 30 years, the Left Front has not built roads to connect far-flung villages, with virtually one bus plying between district headquarters of Jhargram and Belpaharai daily. Also, adjoining villages are Amlasole and Amjhora from where first hunger deaths were reported in the state, pointing to the ruling Left Front government's oppression and dispossession. The NREGA has failed to provide succor to villagers living on Ayodhya hills and in villages dotting the forests around Belpahari. Hardly any of them have got work for the mandatory 100 days.
The funds allotted to development of adivasis are regularly siphoned away by Panchayat [Read CPM] leaders. The majority of houses are still of mud and thatched roof of dry leaves while CPI (M) leaders have grossly misdirected funds allocated for Indira Awaas Yojna. Funds are distributed by local Panchayets, and people who truly need the benefits have hardly heard of the scheme, while sons and daughters of local leaders got houses. No house in the villages around has access to electricity, schools are but buildings without teachers, irrigation canals are perennially dry and the only toilets are the fields and forests. Health Centers in the villages are at best occasionally visited by doctors and medicines are never available there.
This became ideal hunting ground for maoist who fed on the disillusionment with the laid-back and corrupt CPM administration.
It was in this background that Lalgarh captured nations attention on 2nd November when a land mine explosion targeted the convoy of West Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and union steel and mines minister Ram Vilas Paswan as they were returning from the inauguration of the Jindal Steel Works special economic zone (SEZ) in Salboni in West Midnapore district. The Shalbani land mine explosion resulted in hyperactivity of the police.
What began as rumblings of protest took the shape of a spontaneous mass uprising the next day. On 7th November, when the ruling CPI(Marxist) was “observing” the anniversary of the Bolshevik revolution throughout West Bengal, ten thousand Santhal men and women, armed with traditional weapons, came out and obstructed the roads leading to Lalgarh, disconnecting it from Midnapur and Bankura. Roads were dug up and tree trunks were placed on the road to obstruct the entry of police vehicles, in the same way as it had been done in Nandigram.
The English media instead of presenting the full picture has conveniently portrayed the happenings in Lagarh as Maoist movement and is trying to sweep the utter failure of communist movement under the carpet. Even by their own admission, the agitators of Lalgarh number about 40,000 people and no more than 35 armed Maoists who are camping in Lalgarh since March 2008, while very recently, another group of 10 cadres has slipped in.
It may be true that maoist are stroking the flame of discontent and disillusionment of common masses and providing leadership to otherwise unorganised protests. But it would be a huge mistake to brsch aside Lalgarh movement as Maoist movement!
Tailpiece: It is amusing to see Members and supporters of the Communist Party of India-Marxists (CPI-M) staging a sit-in demonstration in New Delhi to protest against the violence by the Maoists in the West Medinipur ditrict of West Bengal.
When times are bad its really bad… CPM now cannot even protest in their home turf!