Bandwan (Purulia), Oct. 24: Purano Ledam is a cluster of 20 households. Like most villages along the Purulia-West Midnapore border, tucked in the south-east corner of the district, it is striking for the breathtaking view it provides.
The dense green foliage, interspersed with low hills, would charm anyone any day. It was in this village, about 10 km south of the October 11 landmine blast site in Bandwan, that the first cause for the administration’s concern became apparent in July last year.
As dusk fell, a group of strangers arrived on foot and told the village elders that they wanted a meeting with them. “The group had about 10 members, including a woman,” said a senior official of the Bandwan block administration, quoting reports from the mostly Santhal villagers.
They were members of the “janajuddho goshthi”, or People’s War group, and had probably trekked in from one of their training camps in Jharkhand near the border with Bengal. Mixing their say with songs, they pointed out the lack of development in the area, the “problems” the villages faced after more than 50 years of freedom and 25 years of Left Front rule.
The meeting continued for over two hours. “These strangers could grab the attention of the villagers with what they had to say. They even had food from them,” the official recalled.
But, for some reason, the higher administration and the local CPM leadership chose to “shelve” the incident. The indifference, sources said, stemmed from “the apparent lack of response from the villagers to the visitors’ views”.
That meeting in Purano Ledam, however, made one point clear — that extremist outfits were lurking nearby. The fact that people carrying arms on their shoulders entered a village in Bengal and spoke to the residents for over two hours and left without a hitch revealed the vulnerability of the people and left a clue to their larger designs.
The panchayat elections in May perhaps cleared the route for further inroads by these “people from the forests”. The CPM lost ground in the gram panchayats and the panchayat samitis, giving way to candidates from the Trinamul Congress-BJP-Jharkhand Mukti Morcha “mahajot (grand alliance)”.
“Some of the mahajot supporters have links with the People’s War,” alleged Rabindranath Kar, a CPM secretariat member and former zilla parishad chairman. He admitted that though the party organisation was strong, some of the members had been approached by the People’s War “to lure them to their fold”.
“To an extent, we could be responsible for the situation now. Our hold in the area has decreased. We could gather 3,000 members from here once. There has been some resentment and protests. Our main job is to repair this,” Kar added.
Posters had appeared on the walls of huts in Dulukdih and Lotajhorna villages, a few kilometres from the ambush site, over the past two months. Nilmadhab Das, the officer-in-charge of Bandwan police station, had begun measures to counter the extremists’ bid to push in and became an obvious target.