It was a muggy July day last year,when Mamata Banerjee during her first visit to Junglemahal as the chief minister of West Bengal unveiled her plan to recruit 10,000 tribal youths from three Maoist-affected districts of West Midnapore,Bankura and Purulia. Her message to the youths was simple: Come and fight for the country and for your motherland,and the strategy simpler giving tribal youths job in the police would prevent them from getting lured by the Naxals. However,the governments decision provoked a huge hue and cry from a large cross section of people politicians to intellectuals and activists to even some retired bureacrats who said the government was just repackaging the Chhattishgarh model of SPO that was rendered illegal by the Supreme Court.
On ground zero,a year later,it seems the governments move has not fallen flat. In contrast,it has been a success. Tribals thronged the recruitment rallies whenever and wherever they were held. As per the official record,93,285 tribal men and women applied for the posts in 28 police stations across the three districts. Of them 13,000 applicants were women.
The first batch of 1,185 tribal youths has completed training of Non-Voluntary Force (NVF) and already reported for duty,while the second batch of 4,075 tribal youths will join duty soon. Significantly,the batch of NVF constables will be the first batch who will be given arms,said a senior police officer.
The governments plan,however,did not start in a smooth way. Initially,the recruitment of Junglemahal youths as special police constables appeared not a legally tenable proposition. The recruitment process had been put on hold after a section of central government bureaucrats objected to the state government policy saying the jobs cannot be created for one particular region.
A senior officer of Home Department recalled the first meeting on the issue chaired by the chief minister. Mamata Banerjee told us that she wants such a force,which will serve the twin purpose isolating the tribal youths from the Maoists by giving them legal guns with a job of good salary and secondly the political purpose of generating employment in Junglemahal. Moreover,the force will act as an asset of the state government in combating the Maoists, the official recounted.
So the state government did not back down. It termed the hiring of Junglemahal youths as a special case and the recruitment rally began. At first,it received a lukewarm response with few Maoist posters appearing at the recruitment venues urging people not to take up the government job. But in a quite intriguing manner,the CPI-Maoists opposition to the recruitment drive was limited to a few posters only.
After the death of Maoist leader Kishenji,the recruitment process got a fillip and and the government stepped on the gas so that the hiring is completed as early as possible.
We have received a very good response from the tribal villagers. The villagers want peace and do not want the conflict to continue. That is why they have applied for the post and have been recruited, said minister Sukumar Hansda,whose job is to bring development in Junglemahal as Minister of Western Region Development.
According to him,the special police constables would provide the tribal people a healthy life and security.
Sunil Kumar Choudhury,the SP of West Midnapore,one the three districts hit by Maoist violence,said,The administration has been able to isolate the Maoists from the locals. People are happy,he quickly added to it.
Human rights activists Sujato Bhadra who led the team of interlocutors for the peace talk between the government and the Maoists,welcomed the success of the recruitment rallies. But why this is successful? Initially it was campaigned that the Maoists will attack the candidates and their family members if they apply for the government job. But we know that the Maoists during the peace talk committed to us that they would not harm any of the candidate and the security force personnel during the process. They have kept their promise which made the recruitment drive successful, Bhadra reasoned. Critics remain
However,groups like Association for Peoples Democratic Rights (APDR),continues to oppose the governments decision. This is the divide and rule policy adopted by the government towards tribal youths, said Debaprasad Roy Choudhury,general secretary of APDR. We protested against the move of the government and even now we are protesting. But our protests did not become successful.