Ajit Kumar Singh
There is little prospect of relief for Jharkhand, as both the Maoist insurgency and the political free fall in the State deepen. The elections of November-December 2009 have yielded an unstable coalition of opportunity, led by a party that commands just 18 seats in an 81 member State Legislative Assembly, the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha; backed by a long-time political and ideological adversary, the Bharatiya Janata Party; and headed by Shibu Soren, who has a slew of criminal charges against him, and two brief flirtations with the Chief Minister’s post – a nine day interregnum in 2005, and four months between August 2008 and January 2009. Jharkhand had, in fact, been under President’s rule since January 19, 2009, following Soren’s defeat in the Tamar by-elections.
A five-phase Assembly Election in November-December 2009 secured a 58 per cent voter participation, up from 57 per cent in the Parliamentary elections of April 2009, despite Naxalite (Maoist) attempts to terrorize the people into boycotting the elections. The number of violent incidents was significantly lower during the Assembly Elections, as compared to the Parliamentary polls. A total of 12 Policemen lost their lives during the Assembly elections, while 19 persons lost their lives to Maoist violence during the Parliamentary Elections.
The credit for the relatively low poll violence, however, goes more to the extraordinarily protracted phased election process, and the transient saturation of Security Forces in the State. The broader trends in Left Wing Extremist (LWE) violence in the State remain adverse. Jharkhand witnessed a total of 215 fatalities in as many as 381 incidents of Naxalites related violence, including 18 major incidents (incidents involving three or more than three killings) in 2009 (till December 25, according to the South Asia Terrorism Portal database). In terms of fatalities, 2009 was the bloodiest year in the State, and Jharkhand retained the dubious distinction of being second only to Chhattisgarh among the States worst affected by Left Extremism, among a total of 20 afflicted States.
Maoist-related fatalities in Jharkhand, 2004-2008
Source: Annual Report 2008-2009, Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), Government of India
Maoist-related fatalities in Jharkhand, 2005-2009
South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) Database [Data till December 25]
Though the SATP database recorded 381 incidents till December 25 through open source monitoring, the Union Minister of State for Home Affairs, Ajay Maken, had informed the Rajya Sabha (Upper House of Parliament) on July 29 that as many as 395 incidents of CPI-Maoist attacks had already been reported in the year from Jharkhand till July 23, 2009. In 2008, according to Maken, the total number of incidents was 484, and fatalities, 207. Curiously, on August 9, 2009, S. N. Pradhan, Inspector General (IG) of Police in Jharkhand claimed that the “Maoist infested State of Jharkhand has seen a fall in number of attacks as compared to the last year. There has been a decline in Maoist violence…” According to State Police statistics, there were just 228 Maoist attacks till the end of July 2009, as compared to 245 incidents recorded in 2008 in the same period.
On SATP data, a total of 72 civilians (33.48 per cent of those killed), 67 Security Force (SF) personnel (31.16 per cent) and 76 Naxalites (35.34 per cent) were among the 215 fatalities recorded in 2009. In comparison, a total of 74 civilians (48.37 per cent), 39 SFs (25.49 per cent) and 50 Maoists (32.68 per cent) were among 153 persons killed in 2008. [MHA data put the death toll in 2008 at 207].
With a decline in the number of civilians killed and the steep rise in casualties among SFs and the Naxalites, there is evidence of increasing fire contact between the SFs and the Maoists. As many as 48 encounters between the SFs and the Naxalites were reported in 2009. In one such incident, on January 4, 2009, a Special Task Force (STF) team and District Police personnel shot dead a ‘sub-zonal commander’ of the Communist party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist), identified as Babulal Munda alias Marandi alias Raman, and four other cadres in the Baish Resham Forest area, nearly 30 kilometres from the Hazaribagh District headquarters. Similarly, on July 22, Police claimed that six CPI-Maoist cadres were killed in an encounter with the SFs that led to the neutralisation of three CPI-Maoist camps in the Simdega District.
Responding to the heightened State offensive, the Naxalites carried out at least 16 landmine attacks to hamper the movement of the SFs, including seven major attacks. The worst of these included the April 16 incident, when CPI-Maoist cadres blew up a Border Security Force (BSF) bus ferrying personnel from Ladhup to Arah at a place about 125 kilometres from capital Ranchi in Latehar District, killing nine – seven BSF personnel, one helper and the civilian driver of the bus. Again, on June 10, 11 Policemen, including a Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) Inspector, were killed and six others were injured when CPI-Maoist cadres triggered a landmine explosion targeting their vehicle in the West Singhbhum District. Two days later on June 12, CPI-Maoist cadres detonated a landmine in the Nawadih area of the Bokaro District, killing at least 11 SF personnel and injuring eight.
In addition to landmine explosions, the Naxalites also launched some audacious attacks against the SFs to demonstrate their augmenting strength. On March 23, between 50 and 100 Maoists, in four groups, launched simultaneous attacks on the Dhurki Police Station in the Garwah District, firing over 500 rounds. On April 10, the Maoists attacked a BSF camp at Furrow under the Bhandarya Police Station in the Garhwa District. However the SFs repulsed both these attacks. On September 30, the Maoists abducted Police Inspector Francis Induwar of the Special Branch, posted in the Khunti District. The Jharkhand Police later recovered Induwar’s decapitated body on a highway in the area. The Maoists had been demanding the release of three of their prominent leaders, Kobad Ghandy, Chatrodhar Mahato and Bhushan Yadav, who had been arrested by security agencies in Delhi and West Bengal, respectively, in exchange for Induwar’s release. The demand was said to have been conveyed to the authorities by the outfit’s South Chhotanagpur committee secretary Samar over the phone to a local newspaper. The Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram, however, said there was no demand from Maoists for any swap of the arrested Naxalites.
Several brutal attacks on civilians were also executed by the Maoists in Jharkhand. On July 19, suspected cadres beheaded a man and took away his head, leaving the body near Koleng Nawadih village of Gumla District. On August 28, four persons, including a 12-year-old girl and a woman, were killed, and another injured, by CPI-Maoist cadres who raided a civilian’s home on the outskirts of Ranchi. However, Maoist concerns regarding public opinion and support grew as Maoist brutality – including the beheading incidents – were widely reported. Consequently, on November 20, following the November 19 attack on a passenger train in Ghagra in the West Singhbhum District in which two passengers were killed and at least 47 were injured, the Maoists apologised, stating that the incident had been carried out by ‘‘overzealous new recruits’’. Samar, ‘secretary’ of the Bihar-Jharkhand-Orissa Regional Committee of the CPI-Maoist, stated on November 20, ‘‘Why should we kill the common man for no reason? They are our assets as we bank on them for our movement and the movement is also meant for them only.’’ He stated, further, that the party would ensure that the common man was not targeted in future.
Consolidating popular support is, of course, of critical importance in the Maoist strategy. On October 9, Ranchi Senior Superintendent of Police Praveen Kumar noted that the people’s support for the Maoists in the Bundu and Tamar areas of Ranchi District had emerged as one of the biggest stumbling blocks for anti-Naxalite (LWE) operations. “Whether it is out of fear or otherwise, the support of villagers that the sub-zonal commander, Kundan Pahan, enjoys in the area, has made him almost invincible,” Kumar said.
Such ‘support’, however, is more than ambivalent. At least 14 Naxalites were lynched by civilians in nine incidents at different places of the State, demonstrating that, while the Maoists had secured some support in the State – ideologically or coercively – a large chunk of the population remained against them.
However, the Naxalites continued their efforts to establish their authority by imposing diktats on civilians through leaflets and pamphlets. On July 9, the CPI-Maoist launched a poster campaign at Chakulia town in the Ghatshila sub-division of East Singhbhum District reportedly ‘appealing’ to owners of rice mills and detergent factories to pay a minimum wage of INR 100 to daily-wage labourers. Separately, on July 26, Police at Nimdih and Chandil in Seraikela-Kharsawan found CPI-Maoist posters threatening death to those found selling liquor and marijuana in the area. Again on August 7, the CPI-Maoist put up posters in various villages warning people against joining the paramilitary India Reserve Battalions. The handwritten poster asked young people to boycott the ongoing recruitment.
In at least 93 incidents in the year, the Naxalites targeted the State’s economy, striking against railway property and personnel, setting trucks ablaze, opening fire at several buses and trucks, blowing up petrol pumps, attacked construction companies and their work sites and destroying mobile phone towers. More significantly, the Naxalites called for disruptive state-wide bandhs (general shut downs) on at least 19 occasions, bringing the State to a virtual standstill. 2008 had seen just 22 incidents on economic targets and bandhs on just nine occasions. A November 6, report also disclosed that the Naxalites had blown up more than 30 school buildings in Jharkhand over the past five years.
The Naxalites also continued their campaigns of loot and extortion. While only 10 extortion cases were officially recorded, the regime of extortion was endemic across the State, targeting ordinary citizens, businesses, corporations and Government officials alike. In one daring incident, the Naxalites abducted a Government official, Alok Kumar, from the Palamau District on August 31 and demanded a ransom of INR 2,000,000. Kumar was, however, rescued later. A July 23 report indicated that Naxalites were extracting ‘levies’ from funds meant for the development of schools in Jharkhand. According to the report, Naxalites were demanding a proportion of the grants schools received from the Government. In Latehar, they demanded INR 50,000 as ‘levy’ from one school and threatened dire consequences in case they were not paid the amount. INR 6.3 million is allocated for construction and development of schools by the Government, and the Maoists want to ensure that a proportion of these funds flow into their coffers.
Nevertheless, the Maoist ambitions remain far from securing their own declared objectives. It is significant that the CPI-Maoist had vowed on March 19, 2007, to take the ‘revolution’ from its current ‘guerrilla warfare phase’ in Jharkhand to the stage of ‘mobile warfare’ over the succeeding months, but has since failed to carve out its projected ‘liberated areas’.
In the interim, the SFs arrested 225 Naxalites, including 14 ‘commanders’, and were able at least to hinder the relentless process of Maoist consolidation in Jharkhand. The Maoists suffered a telling blow following the arrest of their leader Ravi Sharma aka Arjun aka Mahesh aka Ashok and his wife B. Anuradha aka Rajitha on October 10. The duo, hailing from Andhra Pradesh, were responsible for the spurt in Naxalite violence in both Jharkhand and Bihar. Earlier, on August 24, 2009, the Police arrested Anil alias Amitabh Bagchi, a member of the CPI-Maoist Politburo, and Tauhild Mula alias Kartik, associated with the Maoist Central Committee. Reports indicate that Bagchi’s area of influence extended across the undivided State of Bihar since 1991. He was also charge-sheeted in a case of extremist violence at Palamu (now in Jharkhand).
The SFs also recovered huge caches of arms and ammunition, as well as support technologies and materials, in at least 31 major seizures during the year. On July 14, Police seized a consignment of sophisticated communication devices, binoculars and bullet-proof jackets, which were to be delivered to the CPI-Maoist cadres operating in Bihar and Jharkhand, from Ranchi. The consignment was to be delivered to the CPI-Maoist central committee member Sandeepji. The seized items include 60 Motorolla communication handsets, 60 headphones, chargers, 54 3.6 volt batteries, 10 Sony compact transistors, two world radio transistors, and six mini cassette recorders, most of them made in Japan and China.
There is some disarray in the LWE ranks in Jharkhand, which provides measure of relief to enforcement agencies. Apart from the CPI-Maoist, Jharkhand records the presence of at least nine of its splinter groups, prominently including the People’ Liberation Front of India (PLFI), Tritiya Prastuti Committee (TPC) and Jharkhand Prastuti Committee (JPC). While the PLFI was involved in 26 incidents of violence during 2009, the JPC and TPC accounted for nine and eight incidents, respectively. Several internecine clashes occurred among these groups. In at least four such clashes, four LWEs were killed. However, it is the growing differences within the CPI-Maoist itself in Jharkhand which is more worrisome for the Maoists. A Maoist ‘ideologue’, who has been associated with the Maoist movement in the region for 30 years, in an interview with IANS published on December 15, on condition of complete anonymity, admitted that acute differences had arisen within the party. While the young cadres endorsed armed action, the Maoist leadership was contemplating “whether entering the political mainstream and working in social sectors in the villages will help draw more people”.
Nevertheless, as in 2008, the Naxalites made their presence felt in all but one of the 24 Districts of the State. According to the SATP Database, the Latehar District registered the highest number of incidents (43), followed by Ranchi (40), Palamu (31), Chatra (30) and East Singhbhum (27). In terms of fatalities, Latehar (34) topped the table, followed by Ranchi (30) and Bokaro (26). There were reports of Maoists infiltrating from other States. A July 9 report claimed that a CPI-Maoist squad led by Madan Mahto, which was active in the Lalgarh area of bordering West Midnapore District in West Bengal, crossed over to Ghatshila in the East Singhbhum District. Intelligence sources revealed that the 16-member squad was operating within a 20-kilometre radius of Ghatshila town. The Maoists, mostly hailing from Belpahari area in West Midnapore’s Jhargram sub-division, were reported to have taken shelter in villages such as Jhanti Jharna, Basadera and Dainmari — all in dense forests without any motorable road — under the Ghatshila Police Station area, near the Bengal border. A September 9 report, quoting intelligence sources, stated that a ‘large number’ of armed Naxalites had taken shelter in the Ghatshila sub-division. The Naxalites, reportedly from West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh, were said to have assembled in the Ghurabandha Hills to attend a training camp in Jamshedpur. According to intelligence inputs, about 80 armed extremists were taking shelter at Pawadapahar which is strategically located as it borders Gorumahisani Police Station area of Mayurbhanj District in Orissa. Mayurbhanj is one of the worst Maoist affected Districts in Orissa.
To counter the Maoist menace, the State and Union Government have taken several measures.However, the Jharkhand Police continues to suffer from a dismal profile in terms of strength, weapons, transport, equipment and infrastructure. On November 28, Union Minister of State for Home Affairs, Ajay Maken, expressed dissatisfaction over the intelligence network in Maoist-infested Jharkhand. “There are loopholes in the intelligence network in Jharkhand. It should get more strength.” He assured reporters, however, that “The Centre will provide whatever needed to put in place a strong network.”
Though the relatively peaceful conduct of elections has been a major achievement for the SFs, what remains to be seen is the Naxalite response after the withdrawal of the more than 300 companies of Central Paramilitary Forces (CPMFs) sent for election duty. The fractured mandate and hotch-potch coalition will also create further impediments in the already tumulus politics of the State. The political complications and uncertainties, combined with the infirmities of the present leadership, can only weaken the political consensus and will to take on the Maoists.
Ajit Kumar Singh is a Research Fellow, Institute for Conflict Management, and which publishes the “South Asia Intelligence Review” of the South Asia Terrorism Portal