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INDIAN Maoists have been blamed for the torching of a government “guest house” in a forest where mining companies are seeking to expand their activities at the expense of the locals.
The attack took place in Jharkhand province on Saturday, when around 100 militants descended on the forestry department’s building, destroying it with improvised explosive devices and gas cylinders.
Local police spokesman Amar Pandy said: “We suspect the role of Maoist leaders, especially Budhram and Ajay Mahato, behind the crime.”
The pair are leading figures in the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist), often referred to as the Naxalites, after the West Bengal village where a peasant rebellion took place in 1967.
Local officials said that the Naxalites had flooded the area with “propaganda,” putting up posters and delivering literature before fleeing the area.
The CPI-Maoist said that it opposed construction of the guest house, a building which would be used as a base for the authorities to crack down on opposition to mining operations, insisting that the forest belonged to the people.
Tensions have escalated in the region, with at least 25 Naxalites arrested and five killed in security operations in the past six months.
Jharkhand’s West Singhbum district, where the weekend attack took place, is rich in minerals and there has been mining there since around the time of independence in 1947, producing around 16.3 million tonnes of iron ore in 2017-18.
But 70 years of mining has not benefited locals. More than 65 per cent of people have fallen below the poverty line while the profits line the pockets of mining company executives and contractors.
In particular, there have been few jobs for locals, since the majority of work goes to outside contractors.
Villagers say they are turned away by the mining operators, who often threaten to jail them merely for asking for work.
India deems the CPI-Maoist a terrorist organisation. In 2006, then prime minister Manmohan Singh claimed that the Naxalites were “the single biggest internal security challenge” facing the country.
The Naxalites also often target left parties, including the Communist Party of India-Marxist, attacking their members.
But the party’s successes against security forces and its redistribution of land, coupled with its fierce resistance to big mining companies, has won support among deprived and alienated sections of society.
There are no accurate figures for the relative strength of the CPI-Maoist, but India’s intelligence services and analysts estimate that it has some 9,000 active members.
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