Kantapahari, June 29: Bengal’s area of Maoist influence has expanded far beyond Lalgarh and the current offensive aims to establish police camps far beyond the circle that the security forces completed today after linking up in Kantapahari, senior security officials said.
“There used to be five police camps in the Lalgarh police station area before last November,” said Praveen Kumar, the deputy inspector-general (Midnapore range). “Now we will need at least 15 in five police station areas,” he told this correspondent who was trekking with him from Lalgarh to Kantapahari off the road.
Behind a village, under the shade of a date palm tree, Kumar, who was leading the offensive from the Lalgarh side, sat down for a breather. “Things may not have come to this,” he said, meaning the current offensive involving the central forces. “But there is a tipping point beyond which the state has to act.”
Asked if that tipping point was the attack on CPM leader Anuj Pandey’s house, Kumar said: “It is not one single event but the cumulative impact of a series.” Kumar understands that when he says Bengal police will have to establish 15 camps where there were five — with central forces — it means the area of insurgency is expanding like in Chhattisgarh.
In Chhattisgarh, it is a permanent insurgency. Police forces are fortifying themselves. “Yes, I understand”, he reasons as he resumes the march. “At any time, a third of the security force will be feeding itself, fortifying camps or securing the lines (supply lines).”
That means the disturbances in Lalgarh will lead to Bengal asking for even more forces. The current offensive has already taken up 50 companies of central and state forces, including the CRPF, BSF, state armed police and the India Reserve Battalion.
“The difference with Chhattisgarh is that there was a political vacuum there,” he says. “Here, normal politics and development agencies have to take over.”
In an aside, he asks his men if they had veered too far from the road. One of the men around him replies that he can still sight it. The force from Ramgarh has already reached Kantapahari by this time.
“There can be circumstances when you have to arm the people against rebels,” says Kumar. “It has been done in Kashmir, too. But we are not near that in Bengal.”
Kumar favours a development surge in Lalgarh and its surrounding areas: in Goaltore, Salboni, Binpur, Sarenga, Dharampur, Jhargram. “The Centre has put so many of its forces here. We should not think about technicalities — like 60:40 (meaning 60 per cent contribution from the state and 40 per cent from the Centre). We have to do all we can to earn the confidence of the people.”
The road is now sighted. Kumar asks The Telegraph correspondent to fall back. We are approaching a built-up area that could offer defences to a wannabe assailant. In the event, there is none.