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Jharkhand: Sustained Offensive

Jharkhand: Sustained Offensive

| | 15 Jun 2015, 04:42 pm
Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management Twelve Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) cadres, including a 'zonal commander' identified as Anurag Yadav aka RK aka Doctor, who was carrying a reward of INR 1 million on his head, were killed by a joint team of Palamu Police, Jharkhand Jaguars and Commando Battalion of Resolute Action (CoBRA) personnel at Bakoria village near the Palamu-Latehar border in the Palamu District of Jharkhand at around 01:00 hrs [IST] on June 9, 2015. Confirming the incident, Palamu Superintendent of Police (SP) Patel Mayur Kanaiya Lal stated, "The encounter took place in Bakoria village, about 140 km from Ranchi. All the bodies have been recovered." Two INSAS rifles, an American 30-06 Springfield rifle, four .303 rifles, a semi-automatic rifle and cache of ammunition were recovered from the encounter site.

According to reports, RK was leading a group of Maoists who had attacked Security Forces (SFs) in the Karmatiya Forest in Latehar District on January 7, 2013, resulting in the death of 10 troopers and injury to another 15. Two Maoists were also killed during the encounter. Four civilians, who were reportedly helping the SFs recover the dead bodies the next day, lost their lives when a landmine placed beneath the body of one of the troopers exploded. It was later found that the Maoists had booby-trapped the bodies of another five SF personnel by surgically inserting Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) in their abdomens. The SFs had been vigorously searching for RK since.

Apart from playing the lead role in this infamous attack, RK was also the 'secretary' of the Maoists' South Garhwa Sub-zone and a member of the Koelsankh Zonal Committee. The Koelsankh 'military formation', led by RK, was considered one of the strongest Maoist military formations and operated in Latehar, Gumla, Lohardaga and Simdega Districts of Jharkhand.

A day after the Bakoria incident, on June 10, another encounter took place between SFs and Maoists in the Katkahi Forest under the Chainpur Block of Gumla District. SFs arrested a CPI-Maoist 'zonal commander', identified as Ashok Kumar aka Prasad Lakra and two of his associates from the encounter site. Police also found one .303 rifle, an American 30-06 Springfield rifle and four .315 regular rifles, besides over 30 IEDs, several hand grenades, 250 live bullets and other materials from the site. A civilian, identified as Christopher Giddh (35), was killed during the encounter. Commenting on the civilian killing, Arun Kumar Singh, Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG), Ranchi Range, said a team of District Police and Jharkhand Armed Police Commandos was reconnoitring the Katkahi area when the Maoists opened fire from atop a small hill: "The civilian was not on the side of the Maoists during the encounter. It seems that a stray bullet from the Maoists side hit him."

Referring to Lakra's arrest, Additional Director General of Police (ADG), Operations, and Police Spokesperson S.N. Pradhan observed, "He is one of the main Maoist leaders involved in kidnapping of children for recruitment in the banned outfit in Gumla, Lohardaga and Latehar districts." Left Wing Extremists (LWEs) have abducted at least 35 children in 2015, and have been giving them 'military training'. The High Court of Jharkhand recently took suo-moto cognisance of a media report on this matter and issued notices to both the Central and the State Governments to find and recover the children.

Meanwhile, on May 9, 2015, Police arrested a CPI-Maoist 'sub-zonal commander' identified as Ashok Yadav along with another Maoist cadre, Bhiklal Dangi, in the Chatra District. Yadav was in charge of the Koleshwari Zone.

According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), in the first five months and 14 days of 2015 (data till June 14, 2015), a total of 30 Naxalites (LWEs) have been killed by the SFs in Jharkhand. In the corresponding period of 2014, this number stood at seven. Crucially, one 'sub-zonal commander' each of People's Liberation Front of India (PLFI) and CPI-Maoist; one 'area commander' each of the Tritiya Prastuti Committee (TPC, a CPI-Maoist breakaway faction) and the PLFI, another Maoist splinter group), and one CPI-Maoist 'zonal commander'; were lynched by the public in separate incidents during this period. In terms of fatalities among the Maoists during the current year, Jharkhand is the leading State.

SFs have also arrested 68 LWEs in the State in 2015, including the May 9 arrest of the most prominent among these, Ashok Kumar aka Prasad Lakra. Significantly, Jharkhand records the highest number of arrests in the country in 2015, along with Chhattisgarh (68 arrests each, updated till June 14).

Under relentless pressure, the Maoist belligerence has also seen significant decline, with fatalities among SFs registering a drop. During the current year, SFs have lost two personnel, as compared to seven during the corresponding period of 2014 and 18 in 2013.

Further, SF operational successes have consolidated the environment of security among civilians. 12 civilian fatalities have been recorded in the current year, as against 21 civilian killings during the corresponding period of 2014 and 26 in 2013. However in a major attack on March 21, 2015, the Maoists kidnapped and killed three members of the former royal Shahdeo family at Murmu village in the Lohardaga District. Maoist sources claimed that they were killed because they were 'Police informers'. Explaining the possible reason for the killings Lohardaga SP Manoj Ratan Chothe disclosed, "The Shahdeos resisted Left-Wing Extremists since they entered the area in 1991."

Significantly, the Chief Minister (CM) Raghubar Das-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and All Jharkhand Students Union (AJSU) Government had come to power in Jharkhand with a pledge to control the overall law and order situation and, in particular, to rein in the Naxalites in the State. After a fortnight of coming to power, Das asserted, on January 16, 2015, "The Jharkhand Government will rise to the challenge posed by Maoists. We will decimate extremism and Maoist violence in the State within six months."

It would be premature to conclude that the improved security scenario in the State is primarily due to the new Government's resolve and initiatives. Indeed, the situation across all Maoist-affected States has improved substantially over the past years, even where state action has been far from satisfactory. It is useful to note, moreover, that many challenges remain before an enduring peace can be established in Jharkhand.

The violence perpetrated by the Maoists during the two day (May 24-25) Jharkhand and Bihar bandh (shut down strike), for instance, was a reminder that the Maoists retained significant capacites to hit back. The bandh had been called to protest against the killing of a woman Maoist 'commander', identified as Sarita aka Urmila Ganjoo in the Gaya District of Bihar on May 17, 2015. During the bandh, Maoists set ablaze three vehicles on National Highway-100 between Tatia Jharia and Bishnugarh in the Hazaribagh District of Jharkhand. Similarly, in neighbouring Bihar's Gaya District, life was badly hit during the shut down, and the Maoists torched 32 vehicles despite a Police alert.

Again, on June 8, 2015, PLFI sent a threat letter to the Ranchi Archbishop Telesphore Placidus Toppo of the Roman Catholic Church, seeking INR 50 million as extortion, failing which he would be killed. A self-styled PLFI 'zonal commander' of the Jharkhand-West Bengal Region, Raj Kujur, sent the letter to Cardinal House with a deadline of 15 days for the payment. The letter said, "You have made moolah by spreading religion (evangelicalism), which is why you should give some cut to the organization. The Police can do us no damage. The Police do not have the capacity to arrest our men. If you do not pay, you will be killed." Further, the arrest of four top PLFI cadres, including its Bihar in-charge Awadehsh Jaiswal, from Patna, reconfirmed the group's determination to expand its areas of operation. In an interview published on May 11, 2015, PLFI 'chief' Dinesh Gope declared that PLFI was talking to tea garden labourers to extend its base to Assam, after having spread to Uttarakhand and Haryana. He also claimed that his cadres were in Sri Lanka, Mauritius, China and Nepal for talks with "like-minded organisations".

Meanwhile, the State continues to reel under factional clashes among the LWE outfits. There are more than 19 LWE factions operating in Jharkhand, each thriving on extortion, ransom collection and terror, and engaged in bloody turf wars, one against the other.

Numerous deficiencies in the State's apparatus of response also persist. These are some of the challenges from the enemy side. Significantly, the Special Branch of Jharkhand Police has over 1,250 vacant posts across board, including the crucial posts of Sub-Inspectors, who gather intelligence on LWEs and other anti-social elements from the field. According to a June 5 media report, Jharkhand Police Spokesperson S.N. Pradhan admitted, "The vacancy at the crucial posts definitely takes a toll on the efficiency of the branch. A few officers are doing the job of many." The Special Branch of Jharkhand Police has a sanctioned strength of 2,500 (and is thus currently operating at a 50 per cent deficit).

The Palamu incident may represent a measure of consolidation on the part of the SFs in Jharkhand. However, there is little scope for complacency, despite the Maoists' admission that they are in 'tactical retreat' as a result of the overwhelming losses they have suffered over the past years. The will of the top leadership is yet to be broken, and the Maoists have repeatedly demonstrated capacities for resurgence in the past.

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