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India

Maoist land reform in India

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MIDNAPORE: It was land distribution under Operation Barga that brought CPM to power in 1977. Thirty-three years later, the Maoists in Jangalmahal are treading a similar route to consolidate their support base in 200 villages from Goaltore to Midnapore town. The 60-kilometre stretch forms the ” Maoist core zone”, where men most wanted by the police like Manoj Mahato, Asit Mahato and Gopal Pratihar have a free run.

But this new avatar of Operation Barga is different from the one implemented by the CPM. Maoists have set their own parameters for land reform here. Family income and connections with the ruling party get maximum weightage in this reform process.

The jotedars close to mainstream political parties CPM and Jharkhand Party are the targets, and the beneficiaries are the landless farmers. The Maoists have begun this process in two villages Chandabila and Malkuri under the Midnapore Sadar block, six kilometres from Midnapore town.

First, they drove out Toton Singh and Naru Singh jotedars of Malkuri village, who have 150 bighas [about 50 acres] of land and own a huge ancestral house. Like CPM zonal secretary Anuj Pandey’s house, this building too was pulled down by Maoist-led labourers of around a month and a half ago. Then the guerrillas took possession of the entire land and distributed it among 53 local landless labourers. Naru Singh’s son Ajit, who is known for his proximity to CPM minister Sushanta Ghosh, could do little to prevent it.

One such beneficiary is Satrughna Mahato who has been tilling the land as a wage labourer since long. “We are five brothers with a total land holding of one bigha, including our homestead land. That was not enough to run the family. But now, we can make ends meet,” said Mahato.

However, there are not too many such jotedars in West Bengal where the government has carried out the primary land reforms. In the last 33 years of Left Front rule, villages in the Jangalmahal saw the emergence of a new breed of CPM leaders who have been enjoying vested government lands and even forest land distributed to some non-existent land labourers. Villagers call it kalo patta a false tiller’s deed. Such a practice has been rampant in the villages under Salboni block Rameswarpur, Kolshibhanga, Malbandi, and Madhupur. The Maoist-led People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities (PCPA) has occupied such lands and has started distributing those among the landless.

This is not all. Maoists are also distributing seeds and fertilizers to the landless to begin cultivation. Kamal Middya of Chandabila has already received it. “I used to till Singh’s land in Chandabila. Now I have three bighas in my possession,” Middya said.

Similar is the scene at Belasol village under Salboni block. Here Maoist-led committees have installed deep tubewells and have set up a water reservoir to provide irrigation water to villagers. Other development activities include running of medical camps and also a rural hospital to treat locals. TOI