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Maoist Violence Escalates in Indian State of West Bengal

In India, paramilitary troops have been dispatched to West Bengal state, where Maoist rebels have killed three Communist Party workers after taking control of several villages.  The rising violence by Maoist rebels in eastern India has resulted in the deaths of six Communist Party members.

Police in West Bengal say suspected Maoist rebels shot dead three workers of the ruling Communist Party.  Several other party workers are reported missing.

The rebels have also been blamed for burning down a police station in the area, and demolishing the local offices of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), which governs West Bengal state.  

Violence has escalated in recent days in the Lalgarh area, which was earlier considered a stronghold of the Communist Party.  But since last November, Maoist rebels have expanded their presence, taking control of many villages.  The guerrillas say the area is their first "liberated zone" in West Bengal.  

The rising violence has prompted the federal government to dispatch troops to assist West Bengal state in re-establishing government control in the region.  

Home Minister P. Chidambaram say the state government must take the lead in tackling the violence by deploying its own forces as well.   

"Central paramilitary forces are available in adequate numbers," Chidambaram said. "The impression is that one side of the government is willing to take action, the other side of the government is worried about the consequences.  This is a judgment the chief minister must make."

The director of the Institute of Conflict Management in New Delhi, Ajai Sahni, says the standoff has been building up for several months as Maoist rebels have steadily gained control of many villages in the area.  He says the government may be worried about mounting an operation that could harm villagers.

"The point is they [Maoist rebels] have actually successfully prevented the police from entering over there or paramilitaries from entering over there," Sahni said.  "That of course is largely because police or paramilitaries are apprehensive of going in because they would cause significant civilian casualties.  As a result you have no presence of government over there."

The Lalbagh area is part of a large belt in eastern India where Maoist rebels have expanded their influence during the past decade, and have mounted many ambushes on police and security posts.

Security analyst Sahni says the Maoists represent a potential threat, not only in the east India, but through many parts of the country.  

"They are setting up their political apparatus, they are mobilizing, they are training," Sahni said.  "We see a steady process of creeping consolidation, which will translate into violence. This is the real strategy of the Maoists."

The federal government has acknowledged that Maoist rebels represent the country's biggest internal security challenge, and have been urging state governments to do more to counter the rebels.

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