Junglemahal Votes: Litmus Test For Mamata Banerjee
Things are changing no doubt as developmental initiative of the government are on rise, and the government introduction of the programmes in the field of education, food and health care has indeed given a new hope to people which were deprived of them for years
Maoism, an idea which often comes up, to show and makes its presence felt in every nook and cranny of the country, has once been the talk of the country when it has taken the shelter and continuously challenged the government establishments from West Bengal’s Junglemahal. But with the killing of Maoist leader Kishanji in Junglemahal, the Maoist movement shattered and the regrouping of the organisation in Bengal has stopped altogether.
As the upcoming Lok Sabha polls is going to play a vital role in deciding the fate of political parties in their race of democracy and as four of the five constituencies in these three Bengal districts will go to polls on May 7, the team of Uday India visited these areas to feel the pulse of the people.
Paschim Midnapore, Purulia and Bankura district of west Bengal, collectively known as Junglemahal, comes under the red corridor of the Maoist movement, which takes up the issue of under development to give momentum to their movement. Later part of the last decade, starting 2008 to 2011, which is regarded as the turmoil’s days in Bengal as it witnessed heavy Maoist activities in the Junglemahal area, from kidnapping to killing, the jungle woods and these simple people have witnessed them all.
Things are changing no doubt, as developmental initiative of the government are on rise, and the government introduction of the programmes in the field of education, food and health care has indeed given a new hope to people which were deprived of them for years.
The government too knows that development is the only mantra in these places which needs special attention, as for years it has witness uprising against system, which has almost paralysed the system in the state and the government machinery was made to think how to take up developmental initiative in the region, which was under the control of Maoists for years.
Women folks of the region, who has always been vocal in their views and the rebellious blood, still runs in their veins, when they say if government doesn’t work we can overthrow them. One among the women, Kalyani in Jhargram while talking to Uday India said “The present government is doing what it needs to do, yes now we have good water to drink and our village have school for education, if things doesn’t work smoothly we also have the power to change system—as we can vote”. When asked, to another woman, this time are they going to vote for the same party candidate who is in power in the state, smiling Ganga said “Many things we are still deprived off, we will vote for the candidate who is good, who will work for us”.
In September last year, when West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee visited Junglemahal, she had said though her name topped the Maoist hit-list, she would keep visiting their former stronghold of Junglemahal as she was not afraid of them. “I have heard that my name tops their hit-list. If they are brave enough let them come. I am not afraid of them. Nothing can stop me from visiting Junglemahal,” Mamata Banerjee told in a public rally in Silda in Paschim Midnapore, the place where 24, Eastern Frontier Rifles personnel, who were killed by the ultras in their camp in February 2010.
“I will visit Junglemahal a thousand times to carry on the development process,” she said dubbing Maoists as cowards who took advantage of darkness of the night to kill people. Urging people to resist the Maoists so that they could not disturb peace, she said, “We have recruited many people of Junglemahal in the police force, in the civic police and village police.”
The state government is planning to take up a tourism project spread over Goaltore, Silda and other areas of the Paschim Midnapore district to attract more tourists to Junglemahal for its economic development. Although the government has many plans to develop the region, but the people who forms the Junglemahal, have open perspective and outlook, which indeed motivate them to vote for the right candidate.
With election campaigns of the political parties, security forces too started scanning forest pathways for explosives, intensifying border vigil and gathering intelligence from villages, particularly those along railway tracks —to work out a security blueprint for the five Lok Sabha constituencies in Maoist-affected Junglemahal.
Intelligence reports suggest, Maoists are trying to visit villages along the Jharkhand border. Security forces have been asked to conduct combing operations in forests on the Ayodhya Hills in Purulia. Roads in Junglemahal that would be used by political leaders and polling personnel will be sanitised.
Of the 9,733 booths in Junglemahal, the Election Commission had categorised around 3,000 as sensitive and 3,900 as highly sensitive. The superintendents of police of the Maoist-affected West Midnapore, Bankura and Purulia, and top officers of Bengal police, including director-general GMP Reddy met and it was made clear to everyone that focus should not be laid only on providing security to VVIPs visiting Junglemahal to campaign. “Equal thrust” must be given to protecting civilians.
Against the backdrop of the Maoist ambush in Chhattisgarh few days back in which 16 persons were killed, it was decided at the meeting that the CRPF and Bengal police would conduct joint patrolling in Junglemahal. Now, 28 companies of central security forces, including the CRPF, are in West Midnapore and Purulia, which share their borders with Jharkhand. Seven more companies are stationed in Bankura, which is not at all sufficient as per the security personals.
The five Lok Sabha constituencies in Junglemahal are Ghatal, Midnapore, Jhargram, Bankura and Purulia. Barring Ghatal, the others will go to polls on May 7. Elections will be held in Ghatal on May 12. Keeping in mind that everyone can exercise their right to vote, the Election Commission has decided to extend the polling hours for the first phase of the Lok Sabha elections in Bengal by one hour.
Preparation of the system and administration to ensure a peaceful poll in the region is in the process, no doubt but this poll will be a litmus test for Mamata Banerjee too. Whether she and her government has really come up to the expectation of the people of region or not, is there to see.
By Joydeep Dasgupta from Kolkata