| Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee inaugurating the bridge over the Siltorsha in Jalpaiguri. Picture by Avijit Sarkar
Dec. 22: Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee today laid out his government’s carrot-and-stick policy to curb the rising militancy in north Bengal.
He offered to release the jailed activists of the Kamtapur Liberation Front but said he would not talk to the militants unless they gave up arms “unconditionally”.
Wrapping up his two-day, whirlwind tour of Cooch Behar and Jalpaiguri, Bhattacharjee told reporters in Siliguri that his government was thinking of releasing some 100 suspected militants lodged in jails in Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri and Cooch Behar. “We will set them free if they promise to snap all links with the militant organisation and return to the mainstream.”
The chief minister said some top KLO militants had communicated their willingness to surrender, but made it clear that the government would not talk to them unless they laid down arms, without condition.
One of the militants, Tarzan, had already turned himself over to the security forces. “These militants are a bunch of cowards. They must drop their guns on their own if they want to talk to us,” he told a rally in Jalpaiguri.
Bhattacharjee did not say when or where the other “willing” militants would surrender. Nor would he give details of the modalities the government had worked out with them.
A police official said Tarzan or Himadri Das, a KLO deputy commandant, had turned himself over to the forces last month, but the surrender had been kept under wraps so as not to alert the militant organisation. “We had hoped that a few top KLO men would follow suit and any leak of the news would deter them,” the official said.
It is not clear whether Tarzan is still in custody or has been set free. It is also unclear what prompted the chief minister to break the news today. The so-called deputy commandant was believed to be the No. II in the KLO organisation after Jeevan Singh, the commander-in-chief.
Bhattacharjee accused the Kamtapur People’s Party of being “in cahoots” with the militant organisation. “Though the KPP projects itself as a political party, both the KLO and the KPP have a common financial backer,” he said, hinting at their alleged links with Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence.
He said the KLO could not have sustained as a militant organisation without ISI’s backing. “ISI is helping the KLO spread terror in north Bengal.”
Bhattacharjee said the KPP leadership had never condemned the KLO, a charge the CPM had made earlier but was hotly denied by KPP chief Atul Roy.
“By day, they operate as KPP, but as KLO by night. The KPP is nothing but the political wing of the militant KLO,” he charged.
Earlier, the chief minister, inaugurating a bridge over the Siltorsha river in Jalpaiguri, lambasted the KPP for taking up cudgels on behalf of the ethnic Rajbanshis. “The KPP claims to be the party of Rajbanshis, but it is the CPM which has always worked for them.” Referring to the militants hiding in Bhutan, the chief minister said he had asked the Centre to take it up with the Bhutanese government.