Bandwan, April 12: Why hasn't he been home'
Upen Hansda chokes on his breakfast and waves a hand as if to say ' let me plough through this and I'll answer that. He is clearly reluctant to talk about what he thinks is a private matter.
The langchas on the sal-leaf plate look delicious. Hansda has wolfed down half a dozen kochuris, a bowl of ghugni. The langchas await their turn.
'Who says so' he asks after he has washed and lit a bidi. In Bandwan, it is common knowledge that local CPM leaders ' targets of Maoist insurgents ' are asked to be careful with their movements.
For about a month now Hansda has not been home to his village Ma Kopali, barely 10 km from Bandwan town, except for short visits. The MLA seeking a second term mostly spends his nights in the party office.
'I'm in the middle of an election campaign. Besides, I'm the party's zonal committee secretary. Where is the time to go home'
Outside, the driver of the 4X4 in which Hansda will soon leave for a public meeting has confided they are under strict instructions to return by four in the afternoon. Hansda denies it. He is stung by the allegation that he is afraid to venture into his village and is deeply embarrassed.
The embarrassment is the party's.
For one reason or another, Maoist presence is conceivable in Nepal, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Jharkhand and Bihar. But Bengal'
Bengal with its 29 ' and a foreseeable five more ' years of Left rule. Bengal, with arguably the most devolved rural power structure; Bengal that put down Naxalism decades back, ushered in land reforms and gave the world a model of provincial Marxism economists are still trying to decode.
Hansda's village is just a kilometre and a half from Bhomragora. In Bhomragora, Chandana and Probir Kar narrate what happened on the night of December 31, 2005. Their father, Rabindranath Kar, and mother, Anandamoyee, were burnt alive.
Rabi Kar was the CPM's Purulia district secretariat member and chief of the zilla parishad for five years.
That night, says Chandana: 'They asked for me, my son and our grandmother ' Rabi Kar's mother ' to comeout of the house.' It is today a rebuilt mud-walled structure with a courtyard inside. Not lavish at all, but one of the bigger houses in Bhomragora. Probir was away that night.
'Thakuma, amra dakat noy, Maobadi buthi (grandma, we are not dacoits, we are Maoists)', a girl said in Bengali but she was Santhali. The words still ring chillingly in my ears,' Chandana shivers.
When they found Kar and his wife in the chilekotha ' the upper level used to dry paddy ' where they were hiding, one boy used a ladder to enter it. Anandamoyee knocked him down with a stick.
'The armed squad leader who was here' ' Chandana goes and stands across the village street from her rebuilt house ' 'with a walkie-talkie in his hand asked his squad to shoot them and set fire to the house. I was shouting and screaming but he knocked me down. I asked why are you doing this to my father and he, the devil, said 'because he is CPM'.'
At Bandwan police station, officer-in-charge Dipankar Chakraborty identifies the leader of that attack as Dipak. He is from Andhra Pradesh and fluent in Telugu, Bengali, Hindi and Santhali.
A predecessor of the police officer, Nilmadhab Das, was killed on October 11, 2003, in a shootout, about 14 km from the town.
Bandwan is probably the worst-case scenario for the Left. Since the killing of Das, there have been three more incidents of Maoist violence. No wonder Upen Hansda is on guard. But the reason for brushing the tension under the carpet and living in constant public denial is not far to seek.
The party and the Left Front government hate being clubbed together with states where the Maoist movement has gained ground. In the party's view, an admission of the fear will mean public acknowledgement that some circumstances are common across states, of which Bengal is one.
The Left must keep up the belief that it makes the difference for Bengal.