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Red zone hots up over land

Aurangabad, Dec. 14: The recent spurt in Maoist attacks in this rebel hotbed of south Bihar has its roots in the struggle for control over land in the region.

Buoyed by the improving law and order conditions, landowners have been making quiet efforts to reclaim their farmland that have captured under the “economic blockade” programme of the Naxalites for over two decades. The Maoists, in turn, are intensifying their drive to keep their “writ” intact on the lands.

Locked in a fierce war with the landowners through much of the 1980s and 1990s, the Naxalites imposed what they termed an “economic blockade” on the landowners’ farmlands. It effectively meant dispossessing the actual owners from the lands, often at gunpoint, and letting their supporters or cadres to cultivate them as their own.

The police in those years of the bloody battle earned the wrath of the Maoists for they invariably sided with the landlords. With the Nitish Kumar government generating confidence among the people by restoring the “rule of law”, the landowners gained in confidence to reclaim the farmland caught in the “economic blockade” for decades.

The CPI(Maoist), according to insiders in the rebel outfit, has put in place a “well-planned” mechanism to strike at the security forces who are lending giving confidence to landowners to regain their “legitimate” claim over their plots.

“The economic blockade was like a time bomb ticking for years. It is now exploding,” said a CPI(Maoist) leader.

He said the landlords had “unlawfully” acquired far more land than the ceiling in the hinterland, keeping the Dalits and the lower strata of society landless for centuries. “We had actually enforced justice by dispossessing the landlords who were enjoying prosperity over their ceiling surplus lands and distributed them among the landless people,” the rebel leader said.

It is as hard to officially justify the claim of the Maoists as to assess the quantum of land lying under the economic blockade. But the officials dealing with land-related issues estimated that at least 200 acres of farmland in Goh, Nabinagar, Kudumba, Dev, Madanpur and Rafiganj — all rebel-dominated blocks in Aurangabad district — have been captured by the Maoists. “Goh alone has over 30 acres of farmland under the economic blockade for two-and-a-half decades,” a block official told The Telegraph. Security sources said the Maoists had adopted two-pronged strategies — on one hand, they are “terrorising” the upper and middle level farmers against any “thought” of going back to their land, and on the other, they are targeting police personnel with alarming regularity to send the message that their lives were at the mercy of the Naxalites.

The Maoists have carried out three major attacks on police personnel in the past five months, claiming the lives of at least 11 security personnel, including a station house officer. The last two strikes — one in Nabinagar and another in Obra — were more ferocious in nature. The latest spell of Maoist raids has altogether cost 20 lives. Panic has gripped Aurangabad district, particularly the areas where armed guerrillas in uniform are seen moving freely.

The fear among the men-in-uniform can be gauged from the fact that they prefer to move in private and public vehicles instead of in police patrol cars. Travel in non-police vehicles is considered safe in the region as Maoists seldom target them.

Maoist sources revealed they were simmering in anger against some big landowners who have started farming on agriculture land “confiscated” under the economic blockade programme.

This theory has found some sympathy in the state’s political class.

Independent MLA from Obra, Som Prakash, said: “Obra in particular and Aurangabad district in general have been a saga of inequitable distribution of land, fostering inequality in society for centuries. The actual solution lies in equitable distribution of land rather than some sort of knee-jerk reaction.”

Several places in Aurangabad district have, of late, witnessed skirmishes between rebels and landlords mustering muscle and courage to reclaim their farmland in Goh, Nabinagar, Obra and Madanpur blocks. Recently a landowner, Ram Niwas Singh (50) of Azan village, faced the wrath of the rebels.

Hundreds of people armed with batons, spears, axes and hatchets invaded the eight-acre plot, which Ram Niwas tried to recapture with the help of the police. Ram Niwas and the police forces retreated in a hurry when they saw the rebels advancing menacingly.

Similar was the saga of Ram Sagar Yadav (32) of Nizamatpur and Pramod Yadav (42) of Azan village. They were forced to forfeit their ownership over 18 acres and 22 acres of land respectively. The Maoists seized the land under the “economic blockade” programme and distributed them among the landless people. The two farmers tried to regain control over their land on the “assurance” from the local police picket officials.

Ram Sagar said that in July, the Maoists pasted pamphlets on his house commanding him not to set foot on the piece of land. “They came to my house around midnight, pasted pamphlets and left after raising slogans. But they didn’t harm any member of the family,” he said, adding that the local policemen showed no urgency when informed about the episode.

Some landowners under the cover of anonymity revealed that even Goh MLA Ran Vijay Singh has been a “victim” of economic blockade. “Not to speak of others, even a ruling party MLA has to bow before the firepower of the Naxalites. The MLA has been on good terms with some top ranking leaders of the outfit,” a farmer said, adding that the legislator managed to till a few acres of land after using his contacts with the Maoists and also with the help of the police.

Ran Vijay Singh admitted that he facilitated setting up of a police picket at his native village. He also conceded that his agriculture land in his ancestral village had been “captured” by the Naxalites.

Talks with a cross-section of the people revealed that the recent Maoist attacks were aimed at creating panic among the general masses. “Before July, the Maoists were defensive after the police arrested several senior leaders,” they said.

After July 2013, the Maoists stepped up their activities and carried out major operations to keep the influential farmers away from their native places so that they could not interfere into their affairs. Most of the big landlords of the district have shifted either to Patna or the district headquarters town of Aurangabad out of fear of Maoist reprisals, the residents said.