Belpahari (West Midnapore), Sept. 18: Operation Barga, the vehicle that the ruling communists rode to conquer rural Bengal, rolled into this remote, Naxalite-dominated corner of the district today, 15 years after the first pattas, or cultivation rights, were distributed here.
Manoeuvring the damage-control drive into the People’s War stronghold was land reforms minister Abdur Rezzak Mollah, with local CPM leaders in tow. In a well-attended ceremony at Binpur II, a panchayat samiti run by the Congress and Jharkhand Party (Naren), Mollah handed over pattas to 1,629 families before representatives of all political parties.
In all, 483.6 acre of vested land were handed over in the function chaired by Bagala Kisku, the Jharkhand Party (Naren) chairman of the panchayat samiti. Mollah had little to say at the ceremony, except appeal “to work together for the sake of development”.
It was way back in 1987 that pattas were distributed to 6,000 families. “It is true that during the past 15 years, the Left Front has not been able to sustain the pace of land reforms in this belt,” conceded Dahar Sen, a CPM district secretariat member.
In political circles, the move is being viewed as a blatant attempt by the CPM to woo people back into their fold as the People’s War has made deep inroads into their base. The years of neglect have pushed the people towards the Naxalites, observers pointed out.
Congress sources said the Jharkhand Party (Naren) and the CPM had arrived at an understanding and hence, the land distribution.
The distribution pattern clearly shows a bias towards areas dominated by Naxalites. Of the10 gram panchayat areas that make up the samiti, a major share of the pattas has been distributed to families from Bhulabheda and Banspahari, known Naxalite belts. The Bhulabheda families have received 130.95 acre and those in Banspahari, 54.19 acre.
The reason behind the drive was not lost on the Naxalites. A local People’s War leader said on condition of anonymity: “It was due to the influence we have on the local people, who now know how much they have been deprived, that made these parties come together on the same platform to hand over land rights. This is moral victory for us as this will make the poor villagers aware of what these parties are up to.”
But none of the parties involved in the ceremony were willing to concede that it was a damage-control exercise. They gave several explanations why land reforms had taken a backseat here for so long.
“It was due to the infighting in our party after Naren Hansda’s death as well as the squabbling within the Congress that had led to such issues diminishing in importance,” said Siddheswar Pain, the Jharkhand Party’s Binpur chief.
Dahar Sen said there were many “complications” that delayed the process.
But a local CPM leader retorted: “We have told the district leadership many times that land reforms had withered away in this area. If they had done so earlier, we would not have lost so many leaders and cadre in the area to the Naxalites.”
People’s War activists have killed several leaders of both parties over the past year.