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Clued-in cops in combat
Young, smart and sensitised policemen battle old ghost in Maoist belt

Bandwan, April 13: The road from Bandwan to Purulia cuts through an enclave of Jharkhand's East Singhbhum before it enters Bengal again near Borabazar. In the uplands of Kasai river, the earth heaves and undulates. The bed of the river is parched.

In Bandwan, the youngish block development officer, Taheruzzaman, says: 'If we could conserve water, Bandwan would be a different place.'

Taheruzzaman is from Birbhum. Bandwan is his first posting as BDO. He has been here for a year and a half. In that time, he has seen the story behind the dateline.

There is a lot on his plate. The returning officer for the elections is due here in the afternoon. They will have a candidates' meeting.

Taheruzzaman is quick with the statistics: the state government has identified 4,612 villages as the 'poorest'. Of these, 996 are in Purulia district. Seven hundred of the 996 villages are in eight police station areas from where Maoist activity has been reported, 78 in Bandwan.

In Purulia, district magistrate Mukul Sarkar will give the same statistics and conclude: 'So there seems to be a direct correlation between this kind of poverty and this (Maoist) kind of activity.'

Sarkar is an alumnus of Ramakrishna Mission School, Narendrapur. 'I have no hesitation in saying that in our youth, our world was anti-establishment,' he says. Decades later, he is administering a district where the Left is confronting an old ghost.

But there is more in Bandwan than the poverty-drives-people-to-Maoism idea. If that were so, vast swathes of Rajasthan or Haryana would have been coping with insurgency.

The point leads to a minor argument in the chamber of the officer-in-charge of Bandwan police station. 'Isn't that just what it is' he stresses. There is a small reunion here of police officers from neighbouring police stations who have come for a security briefing coinciding with the candidates' meeting.

In the five years since the last Assembly poll, there is evidence of a change in Bengal's constabulary. At four police stations in Purulia, the officers in crucial posts are younger and smarter and are also willing to engage. And this set of officers is not of the IPS cadre.

It's been a tough and often scary year for many of these officers. They are looking forward to a vacation after the April 17 polls. That may not be available easily.

In the compound of the Bandwan BDO's office, an assistant sub-inspector is talking to a deputy company commandant of the BSF from Haryana. The Bengal policeman explains that Bandwan has a majority tribal population. The chat leads to a discussion on the comparative merits and demerits of reservation.

In Burdwan, the ASI says, where the scheduled tribes are barely 5 per cent of the population, their educated are more likely to find jobs in panchayats, schools and zilla parishads than in Bandwan where the Santhals alone are about 45 per cent of the population.

What this means is there are more educated unemployed among tribals as a ratio in Bandwan, making them ready for the picking by politics and/or insurgents and/or criminals.

Many of the suspected Maoists in Bandwan villages were earlier with the CPM. Having switched sides, they can still be identified by CPM leaders. It is not surprising, therefore, that the Maoists have targeted CPM leaders suspected of having been informants.

The ASI's argument is subject to corroboration because literacy levels in Bandwan are among the lowest in the state. But it reveals a crop of deeply sensitised policemen.

Another officer points out why Bandwan has seen so much Maoist activity. The block is hemmed by Jharkhand's East Singhbhum district on three sides. The most active Maoists here are from Patamda, a village in East Singhbhum. It is important for police stations on both sides to coordinate. But Bengal police are convinced that Jharkhand police are simply not up to the task. The support for Maoists in Jharkhand villages, he says, is palpable.

Such insights underline where Bengal makes the difference. The state's politics has ensured that its administration is probably manned by a cadre that is more sensitised. Whether it is the civil officers or the police, they are capable of demonstrating an appreciation that may not be comparable with Jharkhand, Orissa, Chhattisgarh, Bihar, and, yes, Andhra Pradesh.

Yet, there is evidence on hand that Bengal's government is passing up the chance because successive Maoist attacks on the CPM have created an element of panic in its local leadership. There is plenty to suggest that this will translate into heavy-handed military action post the elections.

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