Bengal), Apr 16 (UNI) Taken blindfolded inside the maze of a forest by riding the carrier of a cycle and then walking one can't but keep blinking sometime before finding a band of non-descript people sitting in a clearing.
As one strains a little to have a closer look they appeared clad in soiled trousers and T-shirts-- their faces straight and all staring at you.
The guns strapped to the shoulders of few of them send an unmistakable message that they are the dreaded Maoists operating in three South Bengal districts bordering Jharkhand.
Breaking the silence one of them (name not known) reminded this correspondent in Bengali the condition for appointment that they could give maximum of five minutes for answering queries before moving to some other place and they wanted to be straight into business.
"What they wanted? Why violence?" was the first question.
"It's our tactical line. We are working for the poorest and this is the way we can shake the administration and instill confidence among the people," the supposed leader said.
The fixer, who arranged the brief encounter, had told this correspondent that a deputy commander would be there.
The man, seemingly in his forties-- rugged, tanned but otherwise looking innocuous except for his imposing stares claimed that the fact they had been successfully operating proved they had the support of the local people.
"They call us the 'Bon party' (a party having base in the forest). They know nothing of our ideology abnd strategy but they undertsand that we are for them," he said.
In reply to a question on killing of individuals and CPI(M) workers, most of them poor people, he alleged that CPI(M) had assumed the role of a protector of the system and the assault was against that.
"What had the CPI(M) government done for the marginal people? They have been caught in the lure of Parliamentary democracy. That is why we have called for boycotting polls in some areas. People must realise that it is a farce because it is not for all sections of people." The place was not far from where the Maoists had burn't alive local CPI(M) leader Rabindranath Kar and his wife by setting on fire their house.
The Maoists, most of them said to be coming from Jharkhand and Andhra Pradesh by crossing over the state border, had also triggered a series of landmine blasts that killed policemen as well.
The leader conceded that they had a rapport with the Jharkhand party in West Bengal because of strategic reasons.
Asked whether they would be able to expand the area of operation beyond the inaccessable hilly and jungle terrain that provided them a safe cover, he said, "They would make it." "It is a process and you will see what happens," he said.
A little detour to the west from the undulating tracks towards the town takes one to a remote backward village only 15 km off a block office where one can have access to net in a cyber cafe.
Stark poverty stares at once as most of the villagers reside in delapidated thatched dwellings with their utensils as the only belongings to take care of.
Their avocation-- collecting kendu and saal leafs from the forest for sale for a pittance.
Tightlipped and suspicious about the people with different look they are not good hosts to inquisitive strangers. But a few bout of crooked posers brought out few lines from Maheswar Tudu, a middle aged frail man.
"I was born like this and will remain so. It hardly makes any difference. But still there is a little difference now that we can go inside the forest to collect saal leafs because there is hardly any resistance from the forest officials as the 'Bon party' is there," he said.
Kashi Mahato, whose daughter's marriage ceremony was disrupted recently, said, "Police were arresting people indiscriminately to force an indignation among the villagers." "In our customs the relatives of the groom come to the bride's place but don't take any food from us till the ceremony is over.
They cook food for themselves somewhere outside. But police would suddenly swoop on them and pick them up charging them for being 'Bon Party'. Once a marriage ceremony is broken it is almost impossible to find another groom for a bride," he said, "raising a social problem." While Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee admitted at an election rally in this region that the government had till lot more to do for the poor, a local BDO echoed, "All the people have not so far been benefitted by development. They are poorest of the poor and that is where the Maoists are thriving." Both the District Magistrate and the CPI(M) district leader were unavailble for comments because of the hectic schedule of the chief minister's election programme.
However, pleading annonimity a district official said, "The Maoist depredation will die down once more people are assured of their livelihood. If not it will spread." That is what the chief minister promised to do at his recent election rallies here.
UNI KDG TJP RD 1017