April 24: The threat posed by extremist groups to peaceful polling continues to grow with little over a fortnight to go for votes to be cast in Bengal.
The presence of People’s War and Maoist Communist Centre activists is now being seen on the southern fringes of Calcutta and other urban areas like Arambagh and Durgapur, far from their usual areas of operation in far-flung Purulia, Bankura and West Midnapore.
Posters calling for boycott of elections, threats to government officials and secret meetings of the Naxalite extremists have been reported over the past few days in various places in south Bengal, giving rise to concern for the administration as well as the police.
Though chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has tried to dilute the threat by saying there should be proof that extremists are actually behind the activities, CPM functionaries down the line have no doubt that the threats they are receiving are, in fact, being made by PW activists.
The party’s district secretariat member in Hooghly, for example, said today that he had received a threat over the telephone four days ago saying that his and Jangipara CPM zonal secretary Arup Basu Mullick’s “days were numbered” for the “atrocities you are committing in the area”.
The zonal secretary had been threatened earlier as well, after which the district police had given him bodyguards. Basu Mullick said a joint unit of the Naxalite outfits had held a secret meeting at Jangipara, about 40 km from Calcutta, on April 11. “The meeting was attended by 11-odd extremist members, led by a woman activist wearing a salwar-kameez suit,” he said.
Though the police have neither confirmed nor denied this, CPM workers have vouched for it. But they could not say what was discussed at this meeting. Two days earlier, on April 9, some people on motorcycles distributed leaflets in Rashidpur near Jangipara, calling on the people to abstain from voting, Basu Mullick said.
The police in Arambagh, 150 km from Calcutta in the same district, have, however, admitted that PW activists were present in the town on April 5. Sub-divisional police officer Dilip Adak said: “We got to know some days later that these activists, who had taken shelter in a village under Goghat police station, had come to Arambagh for a secret meeting.”
The development came to light after a local newspaper published a copy of the letter distributed by a commander of People’s War (west zone), asking other members to attend the meeting at the home of “Masterda” in the Rabindrapalli area of Arambagh town. The letter even mentioned the four items to be taken up for discussion at the meeting — “organisational issues, the election, the present situation and funds”.
Sub-divisional officer of Durgapur Osman Gani, who received a threat letter yesterday purportedly from the insurgent group, today said he was continuing with his normal activities. The letter had given him a 10-day ultimatum to take steps to control pollution in the industrial belt in Durgapur.
Gani is the third government official, after the block development officers of Bagmundi in Purulia and Mograhat I in South 24-Parganas, to receive threat letters before the elections.