June 22: The Centre removed an ambiguity today by slapping a largely sterile ban on the CPI (Maoist) but swivelled the spotlight to another ambivalent factor: whether a distinction exists between the party and the government in Bengal.
A few hours before the Centre announced the ban, the Left Front in Bengal had issued a statement articulating its opposition to a similar step in the state. It (a ban) doesnt serve any purpose, CPM general secretary Prakash Karat, too, said in Delhi today, adding that such outfits will regroup under other names. ( )
What Karat said did reflect the ground reality. But by making such a public statement, the party leader, unfettered by the compulsions of governance, landed chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee in a fix.
The chief minister had said in Delhi last week that he was giving serious thought to banning the Maoists who are proscribed in many Naxalite-affected states.
The contradictory compulsions came to the fore today with the chief minister refusing to comment on the Centres decision. Pressed, Bhattacharjee said at Writers Buildings: Obviously, there are reasons why I am not commenting.
The central ban is little more than an administrative measure aimed at removing an ambiguity and updating a list of terrorist organisations and should not have become a contentious issue. But the disconnect between the responsibilities of governance and the posturing of politics ensured the birth of a controversy in the middle of a security operation in Lalgarh.
Union home minister P. Chidambaram — who announced the ban and stressed that the CPI (Maoist) was always a terror organisation and today an ambiguity has been removed — rubbed it in.
Chidambaram said the Left Fronts stand did not mean the Bengal government too was opposed to a ban. I hope the distinction between party and government is still there in this country. I expect that the chief minister will look into the matter and… the state cabinet will take an appropriate decision, he said in Delhi.
The Union minister nudged the chief minister again. I still think that the West Bengal government should declare the CPI (Maoist) an unlawful association, Chidambaram added.
Another ironical twist was added with the Bengal government sending a request to the Centre today for 10 more companies of central forces for Lalgarh — to battle a group that the Left Front and Karat had vowed to fight politically.
Had the chief minister justified the (Left Front) stand or criticised the Centres decision, it could have been very uncomfortable for him, a political source said in Calcutta.
The source added that left to himself, Bhattacharjee may have banned the Maoists.
The central ban under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act can be enforced in a state only with the concurrence of the state government.
Not banning the Maoists, however, does not preclude Bhattacharjees government from taking advantage of Delhis ban.
When the Centre banned Simi (the Students Islamic Movement of India), the state government did not endorse it, the source said. But that did not stop it from cracking down on Simi, closing its offices and arresting its members, on the basis of the central ban. It can do the same against the Maoists.
Such a strategy, he said, can be very convenient for the state government. It will be firing from the Centres shoulders. And if anything backfires, the blame can be passed to the Centre.
Bengal home secretary Ardhendu Sen, asked if the state would abide by Delhis declaration of the CPI (Maoist) as a terrorist organisation, told The Telegraph: The central decision applies to all states in the country. Any state, whether it has its own act banning an organisation or not, is empowered to take action against that outfit.
However, if any state has its own act banning an organisation, it enjoys some legal benefits, Sen added. For instance, it can set its own parameters defining who is liable to be prosecuted under the act, making it simpler to prosecute a person.
CPM sources said many leaders in West Midnapore, facing the brunt of the Maoist attacks, were unhappy with the party leaderships stand.
A team from the district, including a few MLAs, had met state CPM secretary Biman Bose a few days ago to press for a ban, arguing it would help expose the Trinamul-Maoist nexus. A CPM leader said the issue would be raised again.
Union finance minister Pranab Mukherjee said the state government should take stringent action against the Maoists. If it does not do its bit, well consider it dereliction of duty, Mukherjee, also Bengal Congress president, said in Behrampore.
In Calcutta, Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee refused to comment on the Centres ban. I have heard about it but I dont know the details. The decision was taken in Delhi after the Prime Minister and Union home minister met the (Bengal) chief minister. So you had better ask them.
The state cabinet may tomorrow consider a special development package for Lalgarh and its neighbourhood to try and win over the aggrieved tribals and weaken support for the Maoists.