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Peace in Maoist-dominated Junglemahal: Is it another of Mamata Banerjee's great propaganda?

Tuesday, 29 April 2014 - 11:16am IST | Agency: dna

The name Junglemahal does not feature in any government legal document in post colonial era: though survived the test of time, the name rose to national consciousness when thousands of tribal rose up in arms in 2008 against the Left Front government in West Bengal with leadership from the Maoist party.

Since the government changed in Bengal in 2011, Mamata Banerjee has claimed restoring Junglemahal as one of her biggest success stories. The claim is founded on reality to a great extent: most of the “Maoist” leaders are in jail, in the past two years not a single person has dies in the area due to political violence. The government has indeed built a polytechnic institute, a girls’ hostel, a teachers’ training institute and improved roads in the area. They have recruited 10,000 people as home guards and civic police and declared everybody in the area entitled to 2 kg of rice per head per week at Rs 2 per kg. Under the new Kanyashri programme of the state government, girls get Rs 500 scholarship from Class VIII to XI (13-18 years) and one time grant of Rs 25000 after reaching 18 years. There are 22 football clubs all of which get grants from the government including football club only for girls, and Junglemahal Football Cup has also been held once. The Lalgarh movement had lost its steam because people were tired of violence and extortion and saw the possibility of peace in Banerjee, and the new chief minister has not disheartened them.

A local resident of Jhargram told me, there were 12 irrigation sets on both sides of the Subarnarekha River that was built by the CPIM government in 1978 after they came to power. The new TMC has now taken up the job to change them after 35 years. She said, “You cannot deny that corruption persists but at least people are seeing work being done. That is a huge change from us never even getting to know of money ever flowed into these districts.” 

But it is not difficult to see that the peace that the TMC government’s PR machinery is working overtime to promote as an example of successful story of how development can treat extremism effectively, might be ephemeral after all.    

A recent NDTV documentary showed how the people in villages near Silda and Amlasole were still without permanent sources of livelihood. The residents are not receiving pensions or widow allowances. Apart from making NREGA work, the government has to create permanent income sources for the people to bring down seasonal migration that is extremely high in the region as well. Mamata has surely brought peace in Junglemahal, but the cost paid is not very low. Most of the erstwhile PCPA members (People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities formed during the Lalgarh movement) or their family members are either slain or arrested or are TMC members now. Take the example of Tulurani Mahato, a PCPA member and wife of 'Maoist squad member' Dilip Mahato who contested the Panchayat elections from Dharampur on TMC ticket. There is very little enthusiasm to free Chhatradhar Mahato from prison, something Mamata had promised to do before she came to power. Most people surely know most of them could end up with similar fate if they did not show allegiance to the present rulers. 

These could be the first signs of danger under the present regime as well. The atrocities during CPIM leader Deepak Sarkar’s regime, according to a resident of Jhargram, have made sure people are not voting for the Left party yet. But the faces of terror must also change, and not just the flags in their hands. And the development programmes must now slowly shift from the focus on immediate relief that the government had when the movement ended, to those that enable the people to earn permanent incomes on their own. Only this will ensure the peace is a long lasting one.

(The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own, and do not necessarily reflect the views of dna)

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