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Taking on Naxals and benefiting from it

SONEBHADRA, APRIL 24: On entering the Naxalite-affected areas of Chandauli, Sonebhadra and Mirzapur your fear will be forgotten for a while. Some of the best village roads in Uttar Pradesh, including the road to Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav's home Safai, run through these areas. Smooth roads cutting through forests, alongside the Vindhyas and the Gaderia river, are some of the most picturesque views in the Purvanchal area.in the so-called 'Red Corridor', and the hills, the forests and the clusters of huts in a distance could be Naxalite hideouts.


But the districts fall

Two weeks ago, a Maoist commander Sanjay Kol—carrying a reward of Rs 1 lakh for his arrest—was killed in an encounter. On Sunday, his wife was picked up by the police. And the fight, what the Maoists describe as state oppression and the government calls terrorism, has led poor tribals to believe that the way out of the situation would be through political empowerment and development.


One such person is Dashrath Kol, Sanjay Kol's father, who is now contesting from the Robertsganj (Reserved) seat on a Rashtriya Samanta Dal ticket. The older Kol is said to have suffered at the hands of authorities because of his son. But according to some in the Madhupur kasba of Sonebhadra, where the family stays, Sanjay was killed while trying to muster support for his father. Maoist sympathisers do not agree and have called for an election boycott in Chandauli, Sonebhadra and Mirzapur.


"The Maoists are not a threat to common people. Their fight is only with the police," said Ram Dular, a local. He could be right, for the area is remarkably incident free. The only signs of threat are the police armoured vehicles.


Local CPI(M-L) leaders, often mistaken by villagers and the police for Naxalites, say some of the Maoist cadre are joining them. CPI(M-L) activist Prashant Shukla said after the mainstream Indian Left lost support in the area about 15 years ago, their place was taken by the Maoists.


"We are intervening in the area and some of the Maoist cadre have joined us. Even though there is hype about the Maoist terror, there isn't much truth in it. But this hype is fetching the police and the administration a lot of funds from the Centre," he said.


Party General Secretary Dipankar Bhattacharyya, who was campaigning in Robertsganj on Monday, said his party has put up 33 candidates in the three districts. According to him, the party is getting reasonable support.


Sonebhadra Superintendent of Police Raghuvir Lal said he has tried to fight the Maoist terror by holding camps with the local people. He has asked his men to establish good relations with villagers by promising them development. The two-pronged approach, to continue with combing operations while trying to inculcate confidence in people, has begun to pay off. "We promise a fair trial to the Maoists who want to surrender. I can tell you that no further recruitment is taking place," Lal said.


The local population has little time for either the Maoists or the police. The school in Madhupur does function and the teachers are regular, but other facilities barely exist. The hospital is actually a dispensary. The farmers have had a bad year because of an acute water problem and the high cost of fertilisers. Even if they manage to sow their fields, they are hit by the water shortage. The power crisis is overwhelming.


The police, who have the best facilities, which they demand for their fight against the Maoists, say it is endemic: the usual pattern is they get power during the day for a week, and for the next at night.


The districts, where candidates are rarely seen and top political leaders almost never visit, will go to polls on May 3. During election time, talks here focus on the development that has taken place using funds meant for curbing the Naxal menace. Akhileshwar Singh, the village pradhan of Dhansaria in Mirzapur, about 50 km from Madhupur, says: "In the name of fighting Naxalites, a lot of development has taken place in our area. We have good roads and are giving BPL cards to the poor. The police are now better equipped to fight Naxalites."


The ground reality is that apart from the roads, development is taking place only in pockets. One such example is the upcoming Benaras Hindu University South Campus named after late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. The campus is spread over an area of 2,800 acres in Mirzapur. Petrol pumps are coming up right in the centre of what the police will call the 'Maoist area'. There are branches of the Triveni Kshetriya Gramin Bank in villages and the NREGA has been implemented in the districts.


The police have gained the most, and all police stations in the area have armoured vehicles and better arms. Sabhajit Pandey, the police post in-charge at Rajgarh, says the police feel more confident now. They do not want a repeat of the November 2004 Maoist attack in Chandauli, in which 13 security personnel were killed. That was in retaliation of the killing of 14 Maoists in Bhawanipore in 2001.


As you drive out of the Naxal belt, you realise the importance of caste. Surely for all the talk of development, the alienation of the lower caste is evident. The Maoists, perhaps, still have a constituency after all.


IndianExpress.com

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posted by Resistance 4/25/2007 08:12:00 AM,

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