Splinter cells and the Chaos Theory
Renegade Maoist groups wreak havoc in Jharkhand, often with the tacit support of the state police
By Kunal Majumder
ON 16 JANUARY, when seven mutilated bodies were found near the Tazna river in Khunti district of Jharkhand, the media was quick to call it another Maoist attack. Families of the victims had no clue about the killers. No FIR was filed. None of the criminal gangs or Maoist outfits operating in the area claimed responsibility. The police continued to push the “Maoist did it” theory. However, they failed to answer a simple question: Since when did the Maoists start beheading and mutilating their victims? What they didn’t tell the public is that just days before this incident, these seven villagers were declared as police informers by the renegade Maoist group People’s Liberation Front of India (PLFI).
Last year on 7 April, after the murder of Reliance Power general manager Manoj Ojha by a Maoist renegade group in Chatra district, Jharkhand IG RK Malik made an unusually candid admission. He accepted that the Tritiya Prastuti Committee (TPC), a renegade group believed to be responsible for Ojha’s death, was once an ally of the state police. Malik went on to add that the group was no longer under police control after turning criminal. And that the police has been instructed to take action against TPC operatives.
Malik seemed to be admitting what human rights activists and politicians in Jharkhand had long suspected but rarely spoken about: The police had been directly and indirectly supporting renegade groups to target Maoists. These groups, formed mainly with help of expelled CPI(Maoist) cadres, were initially funded and promoted by the police but later turned into Frankenstein’s monsters that the police was struggling hard to control.
Jharkhand has become a breeding ground for more than half-a-dozen such groups that have nothing to do with Maoist ideology but have created a parallel structure on the lines of the rebel outfit. “They have even started using Maoist nomenclatures like area commander, etc. But the real fight is only for the levy,” says Malik.
The spilt in the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) — known as the Communist Party of India (Maoist) after unification with the People’s War Group in 2004 — began after the creation of Jharkhand. First, central committee member Bharatji was demoted for embezzling party funds and sexually exploiting a female cadre. He left the outfit and formed the MCC(M). In 2005, Murariji created TPC on caste lines, allegedly with help of the state police. Before unification, the MCC leadership was dominated by the Yadav community. The TPC, made up of Ganjus (a lower caste community), openly declared that its main target was the Maoists, not the police. Thus began the cat-and-mouse game.
While the TPC continues to dominate the three key districts of Chatra, Palamu and Latehar, the greater challenge for the Maoists, and perhaps the police, come from the PLFI. The outfit, headed by Dinesh Gop, continues to be strong in at least seven districts, many near capital Ranchi. IG Malik admits that the police has no strategy or plans to target the splinter groups who are often tagged Naxals by the local media. “We don’t have specific operations targeting them, but whenever any of their members are caught, we take action against them,” says the top cop.
Going by police records, hardly any major action has been taken against TPC or PLFI members. “Even though the police has booked nearly 3,500 people since the creation of Jharkhand under various Acts and charged them for being Maoists, the state government has not even notified Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) in the state, leave alone including these renegade groups under the Act,” says Shashi Shekhar Pathak, state general secretary of People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL). The notification of UAPA would require the state government to mention the names of the banned outfits. Pathak feels the reason it is not doing so is primarily to safeguard the splinter groups.
Instead, a battle for dominance is being played out in at least 10 districts with daily news of murder and extortion. Maoists are attacking cadres of the renegade groups, killing SPOs and suspected informers. In turn, TPC and PLFI cadres are killing suspected Maoists, in some cases ‘arresting’ and handing them over to police.
Last March, when MGNREGA activist Niyamat Ansari was brutally beaten to death by Maoists in Latehar, shockwaves spread among social activists. “Though our methods are different, our goal is the same. We work for the welfare of the people. I don’t know why they want to target us,” remarked activist Bhukan Singh, who was attacked by the rebels along with Ansari. Initially he was under police custody but later preferred to ‘apologise’ to the Maoists and return to his village.
Ansari and Singh had exposed the nexus between the Maoists and local contractors, to avenge which Ansari was killed. When activists Jean Dreze and Aruna Roy protested against the killing of Ansari, they too were threatened. They were asked to appear before a Jan Adalat. The bonhomie between the Maoists and activists had snapped. But why did the Maoists take such a deadly step? The answer lies somewhere else.
“Under attack from the splinter groups, there is growing insecurity within the Maoist party in Jharkhand,” says a senior activist considered close to the state Maoist leadership. He explains why such an act of indiscipline by local commander Sudarshan was tolerated and later endorsed by the party. “The party had no choice. It is already facing attacks in Latehar from security forces and renegade groups. If they had not endorsed Ansari’s killings, Sudarshan would have simply left the party like many others and floated another group,” he says.
LATEHAR, ALONG with Palamu and Chatra, have become the main battleground for clashes between the TPC, CPI(Maoist) and other splinter groups. Three months before Ojha’s murder, the TPC and another renegade group, the Jharkhand Prastuti Committee (JPC), clashed over the control of a village fair in Chatra. The result: Four people dead. Held on the day of Makar Sankranti, the Balbal fair had been controlled by the TPC for the past three years. The JPC wanted to take charge.
In 2010, eight Maoists were reportedly killed in a clash between Maoists and the TPC in Banwar village. “Two bodies lay at the spot for more than 24 hours. There was no sign of any police,” recalls villager Sunil Manjhi. The police accepts that it is unable to prevent such clashes. “Most of the clashes happen in forest areas. Once we have left after our operation, it is difficult to control,” says Malik.
Many activists point towards the nexus that is building up between the renegade groups and mining and power companies. The state government has signed 104 MOUs with various industrial houses. In Latehar, Kolkata-based Abhijeet Power is building a 1,080 MW thermal power plant. Two years ago, when the project began, there was a lot of opposition from villagers. Senior journalist Faisal Anurag remembers the widespread protests from the locals against the plant. “And then within days, to our surprise, everything settled down,” he recalls. Though Anurag refuses to speculate, activists working on the ground reveal that TPC entered into an understanding with the company. “In exchange for money, TPC ensured the village panchayat gave its nod for the plant,” says an activist.
(A leaked 2007-09 Intelligence Bureau report showed details of the money corporates working in the state paid to the Maoists and other groups. Interestingly, areas like Latehar and Chatra have a lower extortion levy primarily because the Maoists are weaker in these areas. They are controlled by the splinter groups.)
The police, however, refuse to accept this theory. “If this were true, why are the TPC cadres harassing the company again?” asks a senior police officer. Just a few days ago, the TPC is said to have occupied 50 acres of Abhijeet Power by installing red flags. Two years after the plant was set up, it now accuses the company of cheating villagers in the land purchase deal. Another tactic to extract money?
ON THE road from Ranchi to Khunti falls Rania, called the ‘killing fields’ by Gladson Dungdung, a human rights activist, who is on a monitoring sub-committee of the Planning Commission. “Every other day, someone either gets killed by the Maoists or the PLFI or the police in this place. The situation is so bad, you don’t know whom to support and whom to oppose,” says Dungdung.
On 8 May 2011, Jharkhand Party member Joseph Khundulana, 30, was killed in Bandu Dumku village in Rania. The villagers recall how nearly 50 PLFI cadres descended on the village that day. “They asked for Joseph, took him away and strangled him to death,” says a villager.
A few days before the murder, CPI(Maoist) cadres killed Choka Das, a local businessman. He was travelling in a bus from Ranchi to Rania when the Maoists attacked. Later, area commander Prasadji accepted responsibility and accused Das of being a police informer.
In another incident in Gumla district, Maoists killed Gurudev Ukao along with five others at his wedding reception on 15 May 2011. The Maoists were looking for PLFI sub-zonal commander Mangal Naresiya. PUCL’s Pathak says the situation is even worse than in other states. “At least there you have a frontal fight between the police and the Maoists. But in Jharkhand, it’s a free-for-all,” he says.
Murders are not just about area dominance. Like in Ansari’s case, a lot of them are motivated by personal grudges. A few kilometres from Rania starts Khunti district. On 19 April 2011, in Bhandra village, Balaram Singh and Sukra Pahan, both in their early 20s, had gone to the evening haat near the river when half-a-dozen PLFI cadres abducted them. Within an hour, both were shot dead. Singh’s mother still doesn’t know why he was killed. The police says the killing could be related to land issues as Singh was working as a real estate agent after being released from prison in a murder-related case.
While the government maintains a record of deaths due to anti-Naxal operations in the state (65 civilians, 41 Naxals and 17 policemen in January-June 2011), there is no record of the people killed by the renegade groups. By the police’s own admission, it doesn’t target the renegade groups in its special operations. Asked about police supporting the renegade groups, IG Malik says, “The question should be put to the Maoists. Why are so many people leaving them? If their ideology was so strong, why would so many renegade groups come up?”
So is the police playing one group against another? Malik is frank enough to admit that the police doesn’t have control over the hinterlands. “So there is no question of playing one group against another,” he says. Even as the police refuse to accept its role, there is a growing clamour against the way it is handling the issue.
On 4 December 2011, former Assembly Speaker and Chatra MP Inder Singh Namdhari narrowly escaped a Maoist attack. “Previously there were only Maoists. Now we have a number of criminal groups,” says Namdhari. “The police has to understand that one evil can’t be undone by another. It will only create chaos.”
Kunal Majumder is a Senior Correspondent with Tehelka.