Calcutta, Oct. 17: Maoists have condemned the suspension of seven India Reserve Battalion jawans for staging a hunger strike last month in a move apparently aimed at winning over the lower rungs of police, the footsoldiers of anti-rebel operations.
“We support the demands raised by the IRB jawans…. The suspension of the seven IRB jawans proves that the Mamata Banerjee government has no intention of sorting out problems that the policemen in the lower rungs are facing,” said a statement issued by the rebel outfit’s Bengal secretary, Akash.
The statement, issued a day before the chief minister’s Jhargram rally, demanded that the suspended jawans be reinstated immediately.
“Lower rungs of the police force are hated by people because they are forced to open fire at them in the name of anti-Maoist operations. On the other hand, these policemen are treated badly by their superiors and they are not given leaves and the minimum rest,” the statement said.
“We support the jawans’ demands and request them not to pick up guns against us,” it added.
The rebel outfit also warned the government, saying that “revolt by policemen” cannot be suppressed by suspending jawans.
“The decision to suspend the jawans will add fuel to the anger among the lower rungs of policemen against their superiors,” Akash said.
The intelligence branch (IB) said the Maoist statement was aimed at gaining the support of the lower rungs of policemen.
“Since the lower tiers of the police force play an important role during anti-Maoist operations, the rebels are now trying to win them over by echoing their demands,” said an IB officer.
A police officer described the statement as a move by the rebels to appear friendly to a section of policemen.
“They want to influence the constables by sympathising with them and pretending they are friends and not their enemies,” said the West Midnapore-based officer.
“Before an operation, we motivate the jawans by pointing out that the Maoists are our biggest enemies. Now, the rebels are trying to weaken the motivation of the police force. They have realised that an offensive against them will soon be launched,” he added.
IRB jawans at a camp in West Midnapore’s Shilda began a hunger strike on September 23 to protest prolonged posting in Maoist-affected areas without leaves. The agitation had spread to other camps in Jungle Mahal as well as also to the IRB’s headquarters in Durgapur.
The strike was withdrawn after the former director-general of armed police, Gautam Mohan Chakrabarti, visited the Shilda camp and assured the jawans that their demands would be looked into.
Subsequently, the state government decided to withdraw all IRB jawans from Jungle Mahal and replace them with the personnel of the Specially Trained Armed Company (STRACO). The IRB jawans in the Shilda camp have already been shifted to the Durgapur headquarters.
Chakrabarti was removed from his post soon after his Shilda visit.
He reportedly assured the jawans that no action would be taken against them, despite the hunger strike which went against their code of conduct.