Kolkata, Aug 11 (IANS) In another of her frequent district tours, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee visited Maoist-affected Belpahari area promising to usher in all-round development.
Thursday's trip to the far-off area in West Midnapore district by the chief minister was rare, with old timers recalling the visit 40 years ago of the then Congress chief minister S.S. Ray.
Ray had toured Belpahari in 1972 - then part of Midnapore district - to get first hand knowledge of a drought sweeping the area.
But on Thursday, as has been the pattern of all her district programmes, Mamata Banerjee interacted with officials to fine tune development projects and delivery mechanism.
She also addressed a public meeting, speaking on the government's initiatives to uplift the backward area and hand out benefits such as job cards.
At the meeting, Banerjee also issued a warning to the Maoist guerrillas, who had declared Belpahari a liberated zone in 2000, that her government would not tolerate violence.
"Maoists are being brought into the state from Odisha and Jharkhand. They are trying to regroup. But I must make it clear that any kind of violence will not be tolerated. We will not spare those who hand guns to innocent villagers," said the chief minister, during her fifth visit to Junglemahal -- the forested stretch of West Midnapore, Bankura and Purulia districts where Maoists have their base.
She later posted her assessment of the situation on Belpahari on Facebook.
"History shows rule of gun does not bring peace. Peace is earned through sincerity, devotion and commitment towards development. For a long time, Belpahari and surrounding areas used to be ruled by guns. But now, transformation has taken place. Peace and development are doing wonders."
However, the opposition Left Front was quick to counter the chief minister's claims.
Terming it as "populist politics", Left Front chairperson Biman Bose said that with the chief minister keeping herself busy in such populism, development was taking a back seat.
But as Banerjee was touring Junglemahal, the Calcutta High Court granted political prisoner status to seven Maoist leaders and sympathisers lodged in West Bengal jails.
On the other hand, eminent writer Mahasweta Devi attacked the government for "not keeping its promise" to ensure faster trial for prisoners.
In a statement, she asked the government to spell out why 301 prisoners were languishing in prisons without trial.
Maoist leaders Venkateshwara Reddy alias Telugu Dipak and Chhatradhar Mahato are among those in jail.
(Sirshendu Panth can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)