Mamata’s Junglemahal package: Does it address main issues?

July 22nd, 2011 - 10:33 am ICT by IANS  

Mamata Banerjee Kolkata, July 22 (IANS) West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s special economic and development package for the impoverished Maoist-affected Junglemahal area has drawn scepticism from most political parties, analysts, pro-Maoist bodies and intellectuals. They feel she has failed to address the core issues of tribal rights and identity.

On her first visit to the rebel-affected districts in the western part of the state after assuming office, Banerjee had announced a package, including recruiting 10,000 local tribal youths in the police force for fighting the Maoists.

“The chief minister has to address the basic question of ‘respect’ of the tribals and the ‘rights’ of the tribals regarding land and jungle. Otherwise the problem won’t be solved,” Samir Kumar Das, a political analyst, told IANS.

Junglemahal, coined by the then British rulers to denote forested parts of five western districts - West Midnapore, Purulia and Bankura with small parts of Burdwan and Birbhum - is now broadly used to denote the Maoist-hit areas under 28 police stations of West Midnapore, Bankura and Purulia.

Large parts of Junglemahal are developmentally backward due to infertile soil, uneven rough terrain and less rainfall. Large sections of the people are tribals and marginal workers comprising 35.7 percent of the population.

Banerjee’s economic package categorises all tribal families of the Junglemahal as below poverty line (BPL) so that everybody gets food.

According to political analyst Ranabir Samaddar, Banerjee’s promise of a special rehabilitation package for the Maoists if they shun violence would not bear fruit as setting pre-conditions for peace talks reflects a “lack of seriousness” on the part of the government.

Banerjee’s proposal for recruiting 10,000 local tribal youths in the police force for fighting the Maoists has drawn the ire of the state’s main opposition Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M).

“What does she mean by recruiting local youths? Does she want to start Salwa Judum in West Bengal and ignite infighting between the tribals?” CPI-M central committee member Mohammed Salim told IANS.

Salwa Judum was a militia for countering Maoist violence in the state of Chhattisgarh which was later declared illegal by the Supreme Court.

“Nobody can bring back peace in a disturbed area by recruiting local youths in the police force,” Samaddar said.

Junglemahal has been disturbed since 2001 as the Maoists slowly set up base and indulged in killing police officers and then ruling CPI-M leaders.

Experts feel the Maoists mainly chose the area as it was in sync with their stated policy of using the “Jungle” as the core of the war strategy.

The deep Maoist presence was highlighted when in November 2008 a landmine exploded on the route of the convoy of then chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee.

Banerjee’s somersault on the issue of withdrawal of the joint security forces from Junglemahal drew criticism from the pro-People’s Committee against Police Atrocities (PCAPA) civil rights body - ‘Bandi Mukti Committee’ - which has for long been demanding the removal of the forces.

“We demand immediate removal of joint forces from the area. She is saying the police personnel are friends. How can the police be friends when they’ve perpetrated so much atrocities?” said Choton Das, general secretary of the Bandi Mukti Committee.

Banerjee had earlier extended her support to the PCAPA movement and repeatedly demanded the withdrawal of the joint forces from the area.

Writer Sirshendu Mukhopadhyay welcomed Banerjee’s sops for Junglemahal but termed her flip-flop on the issue of Maoist violence as ‘political duplicity’ as she had constantly denied any existence of Maoists during her tenure as opposition leader.

“It is a very good step. It should have been done earlier. But now she is talking of Maoist violence which reflects her political duplicity,” said Mukhopadhyay.

However, actor Kaushik Sen was prepared to wait.

“At least she is sending positive vibes. It is good. We have to wait and see whether these promises are implemented or not,” Sen said.

The Congress on the other hand hailed Banerjee’s package.

“The measures will have a sobering effect on the politically charged atmosphere of Junglemahal,” Congress leader Om Prakash Mishra said.

(Pradipta Tapadar can be contacted at

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