Nearly one thousand passengers of the Bhubaneswar-New Delhi Rajdhani Express had a harrowing time on Tuesday when nearly 600 people, mostly tribals armed with bows, arrows and spears, carrying red flags felled trees on the railway tracks to stop the train at Banstala station near Jhargram in the Naxalite-infested West Midnapore district of West Bengal.
The supporters of People's Committee Against Police Atrocities claimed they were enforcing a bandh in the area to protest alleged atrocities by joint forces of both the Centre and the state. They took the driver and co-driver away with them and many of the supporters entered the railway pantry and looted foodstuffs.
The attackers asked the passengers to come out so that they could set the train on fire, but relented after much persuasion and asked the passengers to go back into their apartments, even as the demonstrators surrounded the train.
The Centre and state government were slow in their reponse. After a harrowing six-hour ordeal, Central and state security forces were rushed to the scene, the demonstrators thinned out and vanished, and the Rajdhani Express continued its journey towards Delhi under CRPF protection and with a pilot train preceding it.
The vice-president of People's Committee Against Police Atrocities Santosh Patra had told India TV over telephone that the blockade would continue so long as the government does not come forward to assure that the joint operations by Centre and state police is discontinued in the area. He denied that the train driver was beaten up.
Maoist leader Kishenji told news channels over phone that they would withdraw their blockade if Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee assured them about considering their demands. Mamata, on her part, appealed to the agitators to remove the blockade immediately and said she was willing to discuss their demands sympathetically.
In Kolkata, West Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee ruled out releasing arrested Maoist leader Chhatradhar Mahato in exchange for lifting of the blockade, even as Home Minister P Chidambaram said in Delhi that the agitators had fled the scene when the Central and state forces reached Banstala station.
Chidambaram said the Rajdhani Express and passengers on board were safe and that the Centre has rushed a relief train to bring back the passengers. "CRPF and state police have reached the spot and the area has been secured. There is no no sign of any other adversary there," Chidambaram said.
He also refuted reports that there was an exchange of fire between security forces and suspected Maoists. "There was firing and a civilian driver was injured but there was no injury to CRPF personnel and there was no exchange of fire," Chidambaram said.
PTI adds: Terming the attack on the Rajdhani Express as an "unforgivable" crime, Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik said in Bhubaneswar, that the activists had put hundreds of people including women and children in trouble.
"State governments, the Union Home ministry and Railways need to take extra care to ensure that such incidents do not occur in future," Patnaik said.
He said both Home Minister P Chidambaram and Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee informed him about the safety of passengers.
Patnaik, who also took up the matter with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh besides West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, said "The time has come for combating the Maoist menace unitedly." "They are ruthless, anti-national and criminal. Therefore, I think, there should be no idea of negotiation with them. They are responsible for violence every day," he said.