An alarmist view may not help matters, but the audacious Maoist offensive in Purulia has an ominous message for West Bengal. The mine-blast that killed a police officer and injured several others has blown to bits the complacence about Maoist threats in the state. Recent incidents in some districts gave enough indication about Maoists’ attempts to regroup themselves and infiltrate tribal areas. It was not unknown that outfits like the People’s War of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) and the Maoist Communist Centre, which have been active in neighbouring Bihar, Jharkhand and Orissa, were trying to penetrate into Bengal’s borders with these states. The state government had even claimed to know these groups’ links with their counterparts in Andhra Pradesh. The Purulia incident proves that the police and intelligence agencies had not been any wiser by their knowledge of mounting Naxalite threats. The manner in which the ill-fated police team in Purulia responded to an anonymous call and drove its way into the outlaws’ trap reflects poorly on the police intelligence network. But it brings to light an even more dangerous link that the rebels have clearly been able to establish with sections of the people, particularly in tribal areas of Midnapore, Bankura and Purulia. The administration’s failure to identify and cut off this link seems to have emboldened the extremists.
Identifying the Maoists’ support groups is crucial for any strategy to effectively fight the menace. The union home minister, Mr L.K. Advani, also underscored its importance in the wake of the attack on the chief minister of Andhra Pradesh, Mr N. Chandrababu Naidu. There is much merit in Mr Advani’s argument that the battle against the Naxalites has to be waged on two fronts — the administrative and the economic. The problem is that governments have a habit of sliding back into inaction after the initial knee-jerk reactions. It was known immediately after the attack on Mr Naidu that the network which the Intelligence Bureau had set up to tackle Maoist groups spread across the states some years ago has become almost defunct. Mr Advani’s argument for reaching the benefits of development to rebel-infested areas is valid, although it is is not exactly a new thesis. There is, however, a political dimension to the problem which is not always adequately highlighted. The growth of Naxalism is also a measure of the failure of the political process which upholds the democratic institutions. The return of Maoism to Bengal’s poorest districts thus exposes the ruling Marxists’ failure to reach out to these areas the benefits of democratic politics and decentralized development. That may be a greater cause for concern.