LALGARH: Trinamool Congress chief and railway minister Mamata Banerjee lived up to her reputation of being a maverick politician at a rally in Lalgarh, West Bengal, on Monday.
Putting herself at odds with her own government's assessment that Naxalism is India's biggest internal security threat, Mamata Banerjee on Monday questioned the killing of a Maoist leader and virtually offered them an olive branch. "Give me a date and time for the talks. Let this politics of murder and terror stop. If need be, the joint operations have to stop during the negotiations," she said, reports Times of India.
Referring to the encounter death of Maoist chief spokesman Cherukuri Rajkumar, popularly known as Azad, in Andhra Pradesh on July 2, Mamata described it as 'khoon (murder)'. "Azad's killing was not right. Swami Agnivesh has told me they want to talk again."
Mamata clearly does not mind if her comments raise eyebrows in Delhi. She is ready to bear with the unease — as long as it serves to mobilize people against the ruling CPM in rural West Bengal.
Sharing the dais with the feisty railway minister at what was billed as an apolitical peace rally but seen as a show of strength for the Trinamool Congress ahead of next year's assembly polls, was Agnivesh, who is mediating between Naxals and the Centre. Agnivesh has conveyed his unhappiness over Azad's killing to the government but PM Manmohan Singh is yet to break his silence over the social activist's demand for a judicial probe into the death.
For now, she appears to be succeeding in that mobilization game. Members of the civil society backed her all the way at Lalgarh on Monday. Prominent personalities, including Medha Patkar and Agnivesh, who had fought many a battle alongside the mainstream Left in states outside West Bengal, showered praise on her for her "uncompromising role" in defending the ‘jal, jangal and zameen' of the Adivasis.
What's more, they all announced that they want the CPM-led government to go. The rally, held ostensibly for peace, turned into a platform for unabashed CPM-bashing. Ironically, the meeting ended with participants singing an IPTA song: ‘Pathe ebar namo sathi... (come on to streets, comrade)'.
This political support from apolitical activists has come as a shot in the arm for Mamata in combating the CPM brigade in Parliament and in Kolkata. Just a day ago, during the party's central committee meeting at Vijaywada, CPM general secretary Prakash Karat had blasted the railways minister for her ‘Maoist links'. Monday's rally would have sent Karat & Co. back into a brooding huddle.
She swears at the Land Acquisition Bill, just like Medha Patkar and Swami Agnivesh have been doing from outside, and pledges to prevent the "plunder of the forest wealth".
While doing so, she has carved out a defiant image of herself that goes well with the rising anti-incumbency mood in West Bengal. Despite being in power at the Centre, she communicates with the masses as though she is out of power because power to her means the CM's office in Kolkata and not Rail Bhavan in New Delhi. It helps her fight the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government and his party that have grown into an establishment over the last 34 years despite their going heavy against the “anti-people” policies of the Centre.
The shift that began from Singur and Nandigram is again being tried out in Lalgarh though Trinamool does not have a major presence in the area. Mamata is aware of her party's strength.
She, thus, aims at touching the heart of the common Adivasi in Lalgarh who is caught in the crossfire between Maoists and security forces. With gun-toting jawans overlooking the rally from rooftops, Mamata announced that she wants the Union government to withdraw the security forces from the area and give freeplay to the “peace initiative”. The Union minister slammed the Maoists, as well, and urged them to lay down arms and sit for talks. She knows that this strategy will help her corner CPM which has set up “armed camps” in the area.
Mamata is using the “peace offensive” as a key to enter Jangalmahal, which is now under the control of two armed groups — Maoists and CPM. She wants to carry forward this tactic to other parts of West Midnapore — Keshpur, Garbeta, Bhadutala, Pirrakanta — and some parts of Birbhum and Hooghly that are under ‘‘CPM harmads (gunmen)".
With 41 assembly seats in the three districts of Jangalmahal (West Midnapore, Bankura and Purulia), the stakes are high for Mamata. More so, because most of the seats are with CPM. The Trinamool chief wants to build public support to break this monopoly and at the same time pressure the Maoists, who have been giving boycott calls for the last few elections thereby giving CPM a chance to mobilise its support base and win the polls.
Mamata eyes a chunk of these seats so that she does not have to depend heavily on Congress while forming the government in Bengal.
“The support from Medha Patkar and Swami Agnivesh is a big gain for Mamata Banerjee who wants to see CPM out of power. But the combination has its problems, too. I heard Agnivesh saying that he wants a judicial inquiry into the murder of CPM activists by Maoists just as he wants a judicial probe into Azad's killing. I doubt how far Mamata will agree to such a demand. There is no doubt that she wants to make dents in CPM strongholds, but then she won't achieve it through anarchy,” said assistant professor of sociology Samit Kar of Presidency College.
Mamata was addressing a gathering of about 60,000 in Lalgarh, where Trinamool depends heavily on the Maoist-backed People's Committee Against Police Atrocities (PCPA) in its battle to oust the CPM.