Calcutta, Nov. 25: The Mamata Banerjee government has dumped more than one millstone with the operation that is thought to have killed Maoist leader Kishan.
Not only has the chief minister successfully weakened the CPI (Maoist), which has lost its most prominent leader in eastern India, she has also silenced those in the CPM who had accused her party of being in cahoots with the rebels, sources in the government said today.
"The chief minister has clearly emerged the winner for the time being. She can claim that her six-month-old government has managed to deal a major blow to the Maoists," a senior government official said.
He said the Maoists, under Kishan's leadership, had posed the most serious problems for Mamata during her tenure so far. Right from the first day, the rebels put pressure on her to deliver on her pre-poll promises — withdrawal of central forces from Jungle Mahal and the release of political prisoners.
When Mamata made her first visit to Jungle Mahal as chief minister in July, she had struck a conciliatory note. Besides promising rehabilitation to Maoists who surrender with arms, she tried to play the development card in an attempt to bring peace to the region.
After the first two-and-a-half months of her government passed without any major incidents of violence in Jungle Mahal, the chief minister claimed that she had solved the Maoist problem. "She went against the advice of the Centre and senior police officers and put an unofficial freeze on anti-Maoist operations. But the move backfired and the Maoists got a chance to regroup and again set up base in Jungle Mahal," the official said.
Many in the administration believe that the first few months were "payback time" for Mamata as the Maoists had refrained from issuing boycott calls before the Assembly elections, which helped Trinamul win seven seats in Jungle Mahal.
But as the government dithered on releasing political prisoners and withdrawing the central forces, the Maoists started resorting to violence, killing some Trinamul leaders. This forced Mamata to change her stance, the government sources said.
Although she had invited the rebels to the talks table and appointed interlocutors to facilitate the peace process, the killings of nine persons, including Trinamul leaders Rabindranath Misra, Lalmohan Mahato and Jitu Singh, by suspected Maoists in September-October prompted her to send a strong message to the insurgents.
She called the Maoists "supari (contract) killers" and "jungle mafia" and said the rebels should not construe the government's peace efforts as its weakness. "She realised that the Maoists were emerging as a threat not just to the administration but also to the party and it was time to act to prevent the Maoists from occupying the political space left by the CPM," a senior police officer said.
The sources said it was necessary for Mamata to blunt the CPM's criticism that she was allowing the Maoists to raise their heads again by halting the operations by the joint forces. When in power, the CPM had accused Trinamul of helping the rebels to destabilise the government.
When Mamata turned the heat on the Maoists, the CPM criticised her for her "late realisation" of the Maoist problem but could not make it a political issue. "The killing of Kishan will further establish her credential as an administrator who took a tough decision to maintain peace in the state," the official said.
He, however, added that Mamata's "problems would start now". "The government has said the peace process would continue through talks, but that is unrealistic as the Maoists will try to avenge the killing of Kishan," the official said.
The sources said that with the talks process plunging into uncertainty, the chief minister would have to continue with the anti-Maoist operations. But they said the use of force could pose political problems for Mamata. "The chief minister will try to ensure increased government spending to deliver on her development promise. But as the joint forces carry on with their operations, she will have to distance herself from rights groups, which had rallied around her before the elections," the official said.