Tag Archives: North Bengal

LEGACY OF DENIAL  

By BAPPADITYA PAUL  

IN April through early May, Naxalbari was in news for BJP president Amit Shah’s visit and an adivasi couple joining Trinamool within a week of having hosted lunch for Shah in their hutment.

Irony, this happened close to the 50th anniversary of Naxal Movement on 24 May. Fifty springs ago, it was an uprising of the working class in hitherto unknown Naxalbari village that stemmed from an unflinching belief in Communist ideology to bring about social and economic equity.

This time it has been about drawing media attention for injecting a religion centric politics that has historically failed to make headway in Bengal, and a counter tactic for grabbing people’s allegiance by hook or by crook.

That, over the past near one month, Naxalbari has been in the news more for Amit Shah episode than the Naxal Movement turning 50, is ironic but not surprising! Such thing happens when the proponents of a landmark uprising hesitate to claim ownership of its history and hesitate to tell people the real story, leaving it to the ruling class to concoct a propaganda by publicising half-truth.

In all these years since its birth in 1967, Naxal Movement has been riddled by state suppression, factionalism, and the branching into Maoist Struggle that considers guerrilla warfare the only means to achieve social and economic equity, as against the core Naxal ideology of dependence on mass movement and using arms only as an enabler.

Factionalism and the Maoist deviation robbed the proponents of Naxal Movement an opportunity to tell people that the uprising did make some remarkable achievements for the exploited and the toiling masses.

These include putting an end to a cruelty named Hattabahar wherein tea garden managements in northern Bengal used to literally out throw ‘disobedient’ workers and their family anytime of the day or night without notice; abolishing Zamindari wherein a handful of wealthy individuals used to own huge tracts of cultivable land, and effecting land reforms that gave ownership of farmland to the peasants who tilled them.

In contrast, an overzealous ruling class kept on feeding the media about the collateral bloodshed of Naxal Movement. There has been a conscious design to bury every single piece of history that has got anything to do with Naxal uprising, and rather portray it as a misguided venture by some savage populace.

The net result: by and large the people in India, especially those in urban areas, consider Naxal Movement to be anti-development and anti-India. The perception gets reaffirmed every time the Maoists carryout a guerrilla attack on State forces, which get huge publicity in the media, while the issues that they fight for take a backseat.

The moderate Communist parties ~ CPI and CPI-M are equally responsible for the legacy of Naxal Movement getting overcast by relentless misinformation campaign by the ruling class and for being overtaken by the Maoist deviation.

This is despite that the foundation for CPI-M’s coming to power in Bengal and then ruling the state for 34 years was laid by the Naxalbari uprising and the years of struggle preceding that.

Until coming to power, both CPI and then CPI-M used to talk of a people’s revolution and made the Communist foot soldiers in northern Bengal strive hard to achieve the goal. Once in power, they watered down the idea of a revolution, leaving the foot soldiers in a state of disgruntlement and confusion.

It was almost akin to Mamata Banerjee distancing herself from Chhatradhar Mahato and Maoist leader Kishenji as soon as she assumed Bengal’s power seat in 2011. In the preceding 4-5 years, she had shared dais with Mahato and participated in protest against the killing of Maoist leader Azad in a 2010 police encounter in Andhra Pradesh.

The only difference between CPI-M’s stance during Naxalbari uprising and Mamata’s in 2011, is that she has been quicker in making the volte-face. The ‘politically conscious’ people of Bengal neither spoke out then nor they are speaking out now.

Given that Mamata Banerjee has consolidated her grip on Bengal’s vote bank, and BJP is gradually taking over the slot of the main opposition, CPI-M and its allies in disarray are now desperately looking for shortcuts to reinstall the politics of status quo that they practised for better part of the 34-years.

Even on the 50th anniversary of Naxal Movement, there is no sign of getting into introspection. There is hardly any effort at claiming the legacy of what had been the first “spring thunder” over India.

(Bappaditya Paul is editor of NEWSMEN and author of The First Naxal: An Authorised Biography of Kanu Sanyal (2014) and Pehla Naxali (2017) published by Sage Publications. This piece first appeared on www.newsmen.in on 25 May 2017)

Advertisements

‘Bangla must flush out Ulfa’

 

Interview/ Tarun Gogoi, Chief Minister, Assam

The second son of a tea estate doctor, Tarun Gogoi was born on 10 October 1934 at Rangajan, Jorhat in Assam. A former Union minister, Gogoi became the chief minister of Assam on 17 May 2001 and is now enjoying a second consecutive term.

Bappaditya Paul recently spoke to him at his official residence in Guwahati.

 Excerpts: 

Mr Tarun Gogoi, CM, Assam
Mr Tarun Gogoi, CM, Assam

 

 After Bimala Prashad Chaliha, you are now the longest standing chief minister of Assam. What are the achievements of your Congress government in the past seven and half years?

 ~ The achievement is the turnaround of Assam economy. When I took over the governance from the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), Assam’s economy was really in a bad shape ~ employees were not being paid salaries, developmental activities had stopped completely.

Today, the economy has been stabilised. Earlier the state budget used to be deficit every time, but now we are presenting surplus budget. The state government is not only paying the salaries on time, we are also paying dearness allowance equal to the Centre.

We have constructed almost 10,000 kms of roads so far, provided funds to all educational institutions ~ colleges Rs 10 lakh, three to five lakh to high schools, Rs 15-20 crore to universities and Rs 100-crore to the medical colleges.

Starting with zero, we now have 1,60000 SHGs working across the state and creating earning opportunities for the commons. Again, we are helping in farming mechanisation by distributing power tillers and tractors to the farmers.

 With the Union government implementing the Sixth Pay Commission recommendations, the Assam employees too are expecting a hike in the salaries. Is there any such move?

 ~ The state government has already constituted a new pay commission and we hope to get the report may be in six months time. But keeping in mind the impending hike in state employee salaries, we want the Centre to share the additional burden that waits us. Without this, it would be very difficult to take the state salary close to that of the Central employees and this is the problem with other states as well.

But as an interim relief, we have declared a 15 percent DA to the state employees recently. Earlier we had announced a 10 percent DA and thus cumulatively, it now stands at 25 percent. 

What are the future initiatives that the government contemplates?

~ We are setting up three more medical colleges in the state at Jorhat, Tezpur and Barpeta and the foundation stones for the same have already been laid. With these projects materialised, the total number of medical college in Assam would rise to six but we want one or two more.

Then, next year we are going make one-lakh government recruitments in various departments. Earlier, we made another one-lakh recruitments during the past few years.   

Tarun Gogoi

 But the IIM – Northeast slipped out of Assam and has now been set up in Shillong.

~ I tried my best and even the expert committee opined that the IIM should come up in Guwahati. But then there were some who felt that Assam already has too many higher education institutes like the IIT etc and other northeast states should also get a few. 

There is this talk about upgrading the Gauhati University into a central university. What is the possibility?

~ There is no such proposal as of now. We already have two central universities in Assam.

But a world-class central university will come up in Guwahati and the Union government has already announced its decision to this effect.

What is the Assam government’s stand on the demand for inclusion of north Bengal in the North East Council (NEC)?

~ No, we are not in favour of this. With the inclusion of Sikkim, NEC is already overcrowded and now if north Bengal were included in the council, then we would be deprived of the allocation that we are enjoying now. 

Then, once north Bengal is included in the NEC demand would crop up from other adjacent states as well and there is no end to it.

But we don’t mind if the Centre adopts some other special schemes for north Bengal or other backward areas of the country.

With the Ulfa turning 30 this year, the militancy in Assam seem to have become more vigorous than ever before and they are now targeting the common masses mostly?

~ Not only in Assam, the subversive activities have increased across India. Earlier there were no blasts in the North and South of the country, but now there are blasts at Hyderabad, Bagalore, Mumbai and even Delhi. No place is safe today; none can give hundred percent guarantee.  

As far as Ulfa is concerned, its public support base is fast eroding and that is why it is now targeting the masses to create a fear psychosis. If they had public support, what was the need for triggering blasts every now and then, killing innocent people.

Why you think that the Ulfa is loosing popular support?

~ Because the people have realised, this (insurgency) is not the way to solve the problems of Assam. The problems can be solved by development and political will and not by mindless violence.

By its insurgency, the Ulfa has retarded the progress of the state and has made Assam more backward. If you go on killing people, who would come and invest money here to give employment to your youths. People of Assam have realised this.

There were times when a thousand people will gather at Ulfa’s one call, but now after 30-years of waging mindless terror, it has got none to back them. 

You have been iterating time and again that the Ulfa has its base in Bangladesh and that the anti-Assam militancy is being bred in from there. Why not then the government exerting diplomatic pressure on Bangladesh?

~ Pressure is being created upon the Bangladesh government. We are categorically telling Bangladesh that it must flush out the Ulfa from its territory and extradite the arrested militant leaders to India.

The external affairs minister Mr Pranab Mukherjee has himself raised this matter several times but unfortunately the Bangaldesh government has not acted on this so far. Now, with the change of guard in Bangladesh, we hope that the new regime will realise the dangers of global terror and would dismantle all Ulfa camps from its soil.

Tarun Gogoi

But what if they do not concede now as well?

~ The Union government will decide on that. I am not the competent authority to comment on this, that’s beyond my jurisdiction.

Is the Assam government still open for a talk with the Ulfa?

~ Yes, we are. But the conditions are that the Ulfa must drop arms and the demand for independent Assam. 

The insurgent group DHD (J) is hampering national projects like the Lumding-Silichar Broad Gauge rail route. What is the state doing?

~ Earlier they were creating much trouble. But now, we have provided sufficient security cover for the project to run smoothly. The Assam government is committed to the rail project.  

Bangladeshi infiltration into Assam is being viewed as a national threat. What is your government doing?

~ The Bangladeshi infiltration into Assam has been blown out of proportion for political reasons. Is not there infiltration into West Bengal? Then why blame Assam only!

The 2001 population census put the population growth in Assam three percent less than the national average. If there were so much infiltration, then where the Bangladeshis must have gone.  

But yes, I don’t say there is no infiltration in Assam, but it has witnessed a drastic fall in the past one decade. To stop the Bangladeshi infiltration completely, we have started upgrading the National Register of Citizens (NRC) 1950 and the task would be completed in four-five years time.

Again, we have constituted vigilance committees at the police state level to identify the Bangladeshi migrants quickly. Also, about 75 percent of the Bangladesh border has already been fenced. 

More importantly, we are formulating a law that no foreigner can procure land in Assam without the state government’s prior approval. A bill on this will be tabled in the state Assembly in the next session itself.

Keeping in mind the coming Lok Sabha polls, do you support an alliance with the minority-backed Assam United Democratic Front (AUDF)?

~ No, I am not in favour of any alliance with the AUDF. If they want a merger (with the Congress), that can be considered.

After seven and half years reign, what are your major disappointments?

~ I lament not being able to put an end to insurgency and the bandh culture that plague Assam.

 

(This interview first appeared in The Statesman on 14 February 2009 and is now reposted on this site with some additions/ The interviewer is on the staff of The Statesman, India.) 

Date with the wind

Thanks to the Indian Air Force’s Trans-India Power Hang Glider Expedition stopping by at Bagdogra on its way to creating a world record, Bappaditya Paul gets the chance to make like a bird. 

Getting started
Getting started

RIVERS appeared like thin silver linings, huge trees like shrubs, habitats seemed like tiny playthings of a growing child and roads took on the appearance of capricious drawings! Hovering way up in the sky, at times soaring parallel to mountain peaks, brushing past milky-white clouds and listening to the songs of the wind… The sheer joy was enough to convince that I could have been a bird!

The wings bestowed upon me in the form of an Indian Air Force glider on 15 November 2006 left me with such a mesmerising experience that I was instantly inflicted by a must-share obsession. Especially when the IAF apparently had only one such glider, all thanks to Bagdogra station commander Group Captain Chandramouli, who offered me to take that privileged ride.

Those like me, who often board a commercial flight and are charmed by the clouds outside the window, can little realise the breathtaking experience until presented with the opportunity of sailing into the wild blue yonder in a wonderful little flying machine. 

Given the location of the Air Force station Bagdogra, as the two-seater glider took off on its voyage that morning, the mighty Himalayas loomed in the backdrop while a huge lush-green valley lay like a still-life watercolour below!
The sky was slightly overcast — it was as though dusk was approaching — and we were “sailing” at an altitude of roughly 12,00 feet. The glider was doing 70 kmph and I was fascinated by the scenery surrounding us. 

Weather like this is not ideal for gliding. Moreover, as the day grow longer, gliding becomes troublesome, with frequent jerks. Reason: intensified upward air pressure,” Squadron Leader Ramakant, leader of the two-member IAF Trans-India Power Hang Glider Expedition team, was to tell me later.

Although his deputy, Sergeant SK Yadav, who took me riding pillion, proved an efficient “pilot” and made the voyage as smooth as he could, he couldn’t resist adding to the excitement by resorting to a few twists and turns. 

Fasten your seat belts
Fasten your seat belts

 

The Trans-India Power Hang Glider Expedition was initiated by the two IAF officers of Hindane Air Base in Gaziabad (UP) to commemorate the Platinum Jubilee year of the Indian Air Force. The expedition began on 24 October 2006 and concluded at the Air Force station in Dibrugarh, Assam, on 20 November.
As part of their 3,800-km air journey, the expedition team stopped by 23 air bases in all — from the far north to the far east. When the team halted at Bagdogra, the voyage was roughly 800 km away from the finishing point.
“Once we land at Dibrugarh — the end point of the voyage — we will be setting a new national record of covering the longest distance by glider,” an enthusiastic Squadron Leader Ramakant had told. The previous record of mapping 3,000 km also lies with the Indian Air Force.

Mind you, the IAF has got just this one glider – which I flew on. The body of the glider is made in Italy, while the 52-hp engine that powers it is manufactured in Austria. Measuring 30 feet in width, the two-winged glider weighs around 400 kg.

Interestingly, normal petrol happens to be the fuel source. The tank placed below the seat allows maximum storage of 55 litres of the fluid. 
This marvelous machine cost the Indian Air Force Rs 11 lakh and it is used primarily for adventure purpose, though, as per conventional usage, it is also used to do reconnaissance of air-routes before a fighter aircraft takes off. 

 

Date with the wind @ 1200 ft
Date with the wind @ 1200 ft

At 90 kmph (maximum speed limit), the glider can cover a distance of 350 km in a single go and the highest altitude ride fixed by its manufacturer is 10,000 feet,” said Squadron Leader Ramakant. But with pride, he added: “En route Jammu to Udhampur earlier this month, we had risen to 12,000 feet without any oxygen support. It’s a record in India.” 
To him, the Trans-India Power Hang Glider Expedition team and the Indian Air Force, all I could say is “Bravo!”

(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, India. The article originally appeared in The Statesman on 26 November 2006).

Terror in North Bengal air

The KLO can hardly die. The outlawed Ulfa –a strategic partner of the KLO – will never let it die in its own interest, writes BAPPADITYA PAUL.

In a span of five months –from October to February – North Bengal has so far witnessed three bomb blasts. Of these, two went off at separate railway stations, while one explosion took place in a market place along the Assam – Bengal border. The toll stands at eight dead, besides a long list of injured.

If these are any indications, and there is every reason to fear so, a tumultuous time is set to disturb peace in the region again.

It’s not the first occasion that militants threatened peace here. Due to its proximity with Assam – the state fighting insurgency for the past 25 years – North Bengal has always been prone to militants’ attacks. The vulnerability is increased as the region shares three international boundaries with Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh.

The latter of the three is the breeding ground for militants active in the North –east.

The Kamtapur Liberation Organisation (KLO), a local militant outfit spearheading the agitation for a separate homeland for the Rajbanshis of North Bengal and four lower Assam districts, had unleashed a massive spate of violence here in the past. Until 2003, when Bhutan carried out Operation Flush Out against Indian militants camping on its soil, the KLO used to occupy the imagination of the state police.

After Operation Flush Out became an overwhelming success, followed by large-scale surrender of KLO rebels, the state police retracted from the offensive.

The feeling that the “KLO backbone had been reduced to dust” soon overcast the intelligence of the state police and it apparently moved its attention away from the outfit. While doing so, the state police missed out on the vital point that despite its backbone having been smashed, the KLO could hardly die this way. Leave aside the ideological motivation behind the outfit, the outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom (Ulfa) – a strategic partner of the KLO – would never let it die, for its own cause.

To put it in the proper perspective, Ulfa needs a dependable alliance in this part of West Bengal to provide its cadres with all the logistical support it needs, while accessing the camps in the neighbouring countries using the North Bengal corridor. And for this job, none could be more suitable than the KLO, which itself is waging a “proxy war” against the state.

Taking advantage of the lackadaisical attitude of the police, the KLO has once again rejuvenated itself. Intelligence reports suggest, trained in Chittagong camps, a new-armed group of the KLO crossed over to North Bengal in the middle of last year.

Apropos of the Intelligence input, a renewed spate of violence has struck North Bengal again. Worst this time, the militants seem to be following a “minimal risk, maximum achievement “ strategy and instead of confronting he security personnel directly, are targeting public zones. The blasts at Belakoba and Kamakhyaguri railway stations and at Barovisha market are only a testimony to that.

It is astonishing that even after repeated attacks on ordinary citizens, the state government, or more particularly, the state police, prefer sitting idle on the matter. The fact that militants are carrying out blasts one after another in North Bengal indicates that the guardians of law are either taking the resurgence of militants too lightly, or are missing out in strategy to tackle the situation.

The need of the hour is that the police, without any further delay, should chalk out a comprehensive strategy to foil the militant resurgence in the region.

While the intelligence machinery of the police here must undergo a massive revamp by inducing officers with proven track records, coordination with Intelligence wings of various Central security agencies would be of help.

An operational understanding and exchange of Intelligence inputs with the Assam police is called for. This is not merely because Assam shares its boundaries with North Bengal or it is an old patient afflicted by the malady of insurgency, but also because the KLO has proven links with several rebel groups active in the Northeast, including Ulfa.

On the operational aspect, instead playing it defensive, the police must go on the offensive, as it’s the only option to battle a “proxy war”, if not winning it. For this, the strength of the police force in North Bengal requires to be raised immediately to a sufficient level, without any compromise. At the same time, the police here need an aggressive and efficient political leadership to carry forward its march against militancy in the region.

And as soon as an offensive against the armed rebels is resorted to, if at all, unlike the post Operation Flush Out period, it will have to be sustained. At least until the time a better option is worked out, or the cancer of insurgency is treated at its roots.

(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, Siliguri, India / This article was originally published in The Statesman in February 2007)