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Jharkhand: Strategic Silence

Jharkhand: Strategic Silence

By Fakir Mohan Pradhan | | 13 Jan 2015, 01:20 pm
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management In a change for good, the five phase Assembly Election in Jharkhand held in the month of November and December 2014 passed off peacefully, with a record voter turnout of 66.47 per cent. According to the Jharkhand Chief Electoral Officer P.K. Jajoria the State has not recorded this high a polling in any election - Assembly or Lok Sabha - since the creation of the State in 2000. Significantly, Inspector General (IG) of Police (Operations) M.L. Meena, who was a nodal officer in the Election Cell, added, "Since 1996, no election had been peaceful. Casualties were reported in 2009 and 2005 Assembly and Lok Sabha polls from Palamu, Dhanbad, Giridih, Khunti and Dumka." In the General Elections to the Lok Sabha (Lower House of Parliament) held in April-May 2014, eight persons - five Jharkhand Armed Police (JAP) personnel, two poll officials and a cleaner of the minibus in which they were travelling - died in a landmine blast by the Maoists in the Shikaripada Police Station area in Dumka District on April 24.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its pre-poll alliance partner the All Jharkhand Students' Union (AJSU) won 42 seats (BJP 37 and AJSU 5) in the 81-member Assembly, looking to end the persistent political instability since the formation of the State. Jharkhand has seen nine Governments in the 14 years of its existence, with none of these completing a full term. President's rule has been imposed thrice in the State. Moreover, with BJP now leading the State Government, better coordination between the State and the Centre at the policy as well as operational levels is expected, raising hopes for improved state response to the Maoist challenge. The Maoists, moreover, have lost significant momentum in the State, despite making their presence felt in a number of incidents.

In fact, just a day after the declaration of the results of the Assembly Elections on December 23, over 40 cadres of the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) attacked a Police patrol at Itkhori in Chatra District, killing one Policeman and injuring another three on December 24, 2014. The ambush spot was just one kilometre from the Itkhori Police Station. A 30-minute encounter followed, after which the Maoists escaped, taking advantage of the cover of darkness. Director General of Police (DGP) Rajiv Kumar termed the incident a "desperate attempt" by the Maoists who "have lost the ground".

According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP),Jharkhand recorded a total of 97 fatalities, including 48 civilians, 12 Security Force (SF) personnel and 37 left wing extremist (LWE) cadres in 2014. In 2013 the State registered 131 fatalities, including 48 civilians, 26 SF personnel and 57 LWE cadres. With this, Jharkhand retained the dubious distinction of recording highest civilian fatalities for the third year running, though Chhattisgarh, with a total of 113 killings - 25 civilians, 55 SF personnel and 33 Maoists - recorded the highest fatalities in LWE related incidents. Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA) data available till November 15, 2014, confirms these trends, with the Jharkhand fatalities at 93, including 77 civilians, eight SF personnel and eight LWE cadres; for the whole of 2013 the figures were 162 killed, including 120 civilians, 30 SF personnel and 12 LWE cadres [the high variance between SATP and Government data on LWE insurgents killed is because MHA records only those killed in encounters with SFs, while SATP includes all those killed in fratricidal violence between various LWE groupings]. In 2015, as of January 11, Jharkhand has recorded three fatalities: two suspected leftwing extremists were killed by Maoists allegedly over a dispute on 'levy' collection, at Kadamdiha in West Singhbhum District on January 6; and chief of Jharkhand Prastuti Committee (JPC), Guddu Ganjhu, was killed in an fratricidal clash at Birhu village in Chatra District on January 10. JPC is a splinter Maoist group.

A decline in Maoist activities in the State is evident. While civilian fatalities remain at the same level, SF fatalities have reduced by more than half from, 26 to 12, between 2013 and 2014. LWE fatalities have also come down from 57 to 37, indicating that the extremists are carefully avoiding active engagement with the SFs.

An analysis of major incidents also confirms this trend. While various LWE splinter groups generally avoid clashing with SFs, CPI-Maoist continues to target the SFs. In 2014, out of a total of eight major incidents (each resulting in three or more fatalities), CPI-Maoist engineered just one attack against SFs, on April 24 (during the last phase of the Lok Sabha poll in Jharkhand). Further, there has been just one major incident in which CPI-Maoist suffered major losses at the hands of the SFs: SFs killed three CPI-Maoist cadres, including an 'area commander', at Nayanpur in Giridih District on September 12, in a gun battle that broke out during an area domination exercise by the SFs. Significantly, the Maoists engineered a bigrevenge attack on the Tritiya Prastuti Committee (TPC) on August 9, 2014, killing at least 14 cadres of this splinter group at Choti Kauriya village under Vishrampur Police Station limits in Palamu District. Maoists also killed three civilians each on two occasions, on June 3 and July 25, suspecting them of acting against their interests. PLFI was responsible for one major incident, killing seven persons, including two Special Police Officers and two members of the Shanti Sena (Peace Army), a vigilante formation operating in the State.

Geographically, fatalities were recorded in Gumla (18), Palamu (16), Khunti (12), Dumka (10), Giridih (7), Hazaribagh (6), Ranchi (5), East Singhbhum (4), Simdega (4), West Singhbhum (4), Latehar (3), Lohardaga (2), Seraikella-Kharsawan (2), Bokaro (1), Chatra (1), Daltonganj (1) and Garwah (1).

Among other patterns of violence recorded by SATP, the Maoists engaged in at least 12 incidents of arson in eight Districts - Gumla (3), Lohardaga (2), Chatra (1), Dumka (1), East Singhbhum (1), Khunti (1), Latehar (2) and Ramgarh (1) through 2014. In this period LWE groups were also involved in eight blasts in four Districts - Bokaro (3), Giridih (2), Latehar (2), and Hazaribagh (1) - and five recorded cases of abduction. In 2013, LWE groups were involved in 12 incidents of arson in six Districts, eight recorded incidents of abduction and eight incidents of explosions.

An analysis of Maoist violence, as well as of overground and underground activities, through 2014, indicates that a total of 11 Districts, including Dumka, East Singhbhum, Giridih, Gumla, Hazaribagh, Khunti, Palamu, Ranchi, Latehar, Simdega, and West Singhbhum, remain highly affected; Bokaro, Chatra, Garhwa, Lohardaga Seraikela-Kharswan, Ramgarh are moderately affected; and Dhanbad and Godda are marginally affected by LWE activities.

A peculiar feature of LWE violence in Jharkhand is that various splinter groups (which have broken away from the CPI-Maoist) continue to operate, parallel to CPI-Maoist. The most prominent among these groups include the PLFI, TPC, and Jharkhand Prastuti Committee (JPC). These splinter groups are strongly antagonist to CPI-Maoist, and are also engaged in fratricidal struggles - essentially turf wars for territorial dominance - among themselves. Meanwhile, a joint team of Jharkhand and Delhi Police arrested former Jharkhand agriculture minister Yogendra Sao from Sukurpur area in Delhi, on October 5, 2014, on charges of harbouring and operating two extremist outfits - Jharkhand Tiger Group (JTG) and Jharkhand Bachao Aandolan (JBA ) - in the Hazaribagh area.

In a sensational revelation, outgoing Chief Minister (CM) Hemant Soren claimed, on the floor of the Assembly on August 4, 2014, that it was the Police that created TPC and PLFI: "It is our system which creates such organisations. It was Ram [Ex-DGP V.D. Ram] who formed TPC and PLFI in 2004. It is the system we have! We all have to work collectively and not just blaming the Government of the day or policemen is going to help (sic)."

Jharkhand Police had recorded some good catches in 2014. Prominent among them was Krishna Ahir aka Prasad ji, a 'Zonal Commander' of the South Chhotanagpur Zone and a member of CPI-Maoist's Jharkhand State Committee under the Eastern Regional Bureau, from the Hapedag Forest under the Angara Police Station of Ranchi District, on August 13. Ahir had a bounty of INR 2 million on his head. Another was Sanjay Ganjhu aka Ramesh aka Rameshwar aka Pratap Ganjhu, member of the CPI-Maoist Bihar-Jharkhand-North-Chhattisgarh Regional Committee, who carried a cash reward of INR one million, from the border of West Singhbhum and Simdega Districts, on December 11. Ganjhu was a key explosives expert. Other significant arrests included: Jetha Kachchap 'second-in-command' of the PLFI, arrested from his hideout in Chautanga village in Tupudana Police Station in Ranchi District on August 5; Praveer Da alias Pravil Da, a CPI-Maoist cadre who played a major role in the 2013 killing of Superintendent of Police Amarjeet Balihar in Pakur District on July 2, 2013, arrested from Harwadangal village in Ramgarh Block in Dumka District on September 27, 2014.

Meanwhile, the arrest of CPI-Maoist 'zonal commander' Mukhlal alias Mochhu aliasBhagat, carrying a cash prize of INR 500,000 on his head, was clouded by doubts about the actual identity of the arrested person. In another case, Sushil Ganju, a CPI-Maoist 'zonal commander', who is said to have led the Karmatiya massacre in Latehar District in January 2013, and carried a reward of INR 300,000, is believed by the Maoists to have been arrested on November 1, 2014, though Police have not claimed the arrest. The Maoists gave a bandh call, demanding that his 'arrest' be made public.

Altogether, 29 'commanders' at various levels in different LWE groups were arrested through 2014, including at least 14 from CPI-Maoist. A total of 230 insurgents were arrested in 2014 in Jharkhand. Further, seven 'commanders' of various groups were killed through 2014, including at least five from CPI-Maoist. Significantly, a former 'sub zonal commander' of the CPI-Maoist, identified as Mangal Nagesiya, was killed by the Maoists at Kanshikona village in Gumla District of Jharkhand in an apparent move to 'clear ground'. Nagesiya had been with CPI-Maoist for several years, then parted ways to join PLFI, then three years ago formed his own group called Janhit Kranti Party. After killing him, Maoists looted his weapons. He carried a reward of INR 500,000 on his head. Further, out of a total of 10 surrenders two are 'commander' level Maoists.

However, in a significant security lapse, 55 undertrials, of whom 26 were in jail on charges of Maoist activities, made a bid to escape from the Chaibasa District Jail when they found the main gate open, as soon as the vehicle in which they were taken to court returned to the jail premises. Two persons, Teepa Das, said to be a CPI-Maoist 'Zonal Commander' and Ram Vilas Tanti, died on the spot when Police opened fire on the escaping undertrials. However, 15 managed to escape. Various conspiracy theories have arisen regarding the incident, creating a worrisome picture in conjunction with the simultaneous hunger strikes across Jharkhand Jails in 2014, and Maoists' declared objective of forming jail communes.

Further, in November 2014, a confidential Police report revealed that some corrupt Police officials were selling Police ammunition to LWE insurgents, after showing exaggerated bullet consumption in fake encounters or fake target practice. An enquiry is on.

A 'platoon commander' of the CPI-Maoist's People's Liberation Guerrilla Army (PLGA), identified as Jeevan Kandulna aka Gajendra Singh, in an interview in the Porahat Forest of West Singhbum District of Jharkhand on November 5, confessed that the outfit was not in a healthy state in its former stronghold of the Porahat 'sub-zone'. He blamed its absence at the grassroots level for the decline and conceded, "The party works through its committees. We don't have the Nari (Mukti Sangh, Women's Liberation Union), and the (Krantikari) Kisan (Revolutionary Farmers') Committee is nonexistent. I am the only person running the party here; there should be at least three."

In efforts at damage control, CPI-Maoist's Bihar-Jharkhand Special Area Committee (BJSAC) 'general secretary' Rupesh ji, on November 15, 2014, asserted that the Maoists' silence should not be mistaken for disenchantment of the militia with its ideology. He claimed that a mass movement was being planned against the forceful eviction of villagers to give mining rights to 19 private companies in Saranda. "How long can the Government succeed if the villagers themselves rise against them?" he demanded. Meanwhile, during his visit to Saranda, responding to a query related to the Saranda Action Plan, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh stated, "Much has to be done. Problems are there. Roads are not good."

In November 2014, CPI-Maoist introduced structural changes in their organization, introducing a new committee with a focus on the Jharkhand-Bihar region, and dismantling an existing committee. The formation of the East Bihar Eastern Jharkhand Special Area Committee (EBEJSAC) - to dominate four districts of Dumka, Godda, Pakur and Jamtara under Santhal Pargana Division, and Bhagalpur, Banka, Jamui Lakhisarai and Monghyr in Bihar - is part of the strategy adopted by CPI Maoist during their Fourth Central Committee Meeting held in 2013.

Earlier the outgoing Director General of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), Dilip Trivedi, while addressing the media on the eve of the CRPF's 75th Raising Day, on November 12, 2014, had termed Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand as the most challenging States with regard to tackling Left Wing Extremism in the country. He worried that Maoists were obtaining capabilities to detonate a mine from a long distance and hinted that some States, including Jharkhand, had a vested interest in letting Maoist violence continue.

Interestingly, in the beginning of 2014 Jharkhand proposed to phase out deployment of Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs) in the State within a period of five years to reduce the financial burden. In October 2014, however, the State was once again urging the UMHA to deploy an additional seven CRPF battalions in some of the CPI-Maoist-affected Districts, which have seen the worst violence triggered by LWE since 2004. Over 24 battalions of CAPFs are currently deployed in the State. Jharkhand has a Police-population ratio of 174 per 100,000, as on December 31, 2013 (National Crime Records Bureau data). The CRPF recently sent two small squads (35 per squad) of women commandos to fight the Naxals in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand, for the first time.

On January 2, 2015, the newly elected Chief Minister of Jharkhand, Raghubar Das, declared that he would provide development-oriented schemes and good governance in the State, as he held "administrative failure" to be a major cause of Naxalism. He announced that, within a month, the teachers' recruitment process would commence, and 17,000 Policemen would be appointed within a 'couple of months'. Such ambitions, however, must be moderated by the prevailing political culture of the State. According to media reports, 22 candidates in the recently concluded Assembly Election in the State have or had alleged LWE links, with 10 of these having present or past links with CPI-Maoist. Seven of them have managed to win the election.

Maoists appear to have adopted a strategic silence in Jharkhand, currently focusing more on Chhattisgarh. A stable Government in the State presents a unique opportunity for decisive action against the Maoists over a longer term, as the political vacillation and opportunism of the unstable coalition Governments of the past could see a decline, even as coordination between the BJP-led State and Central Governments improves.