By Kota Mallikarjuna Gupta*
On June 7, 2021, five cadres of the People’s Liberation Front of India (PLFI), a splinter group of the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist), were arrested from an under-construction house near the Biodiversity Park in the Namkum Police Station area of Ranchi City. Following information that the PLFI cadres were regularly holding meetings to plan some crime, Police launched a search operation. PLFI cadres opened fire and, after a brief encounter, five of them, including Kunwar Oraon aka Jainath, ‘area commander’ of the PLFI, and his associates Ravi Minj, Munna Oraon, Naresh Oraon and Amrit Kispotta, were arrested. Police also recovered five motor cycles, one country made pistol, five live bullets, seven mobile phones and Naxal [Left Wing Extremism (LWE)] literature from the encounter site.
On May 18, 2021, a PLFI cadre, identified as Ram Bhengra, was arrested following an encounter between PLFI cadres and Security Forces (SFs) in the Digri Jhariatoli locality under the Rania Police Station in Khunti District. The encounter ensued following PLFI cadres opening fire on the SFs. SFs recovered two country-made weapons, two live bullets, five motorcycles and three mobile phones from the encounter site.
On May 7, 2021, Police arrested five PLFI cadres, identified as Dev Singh Munda, Golden Yadav, Suraj Mahto, Sahjad Ansari and Aslam Khan, in an operation in the Angara Police Station limits in Ranchi District. They were arrested when they were holding a meeting with their sympathizers to expand their base in the Jonha Musungu Pudi village. Police recovered three country-made pistols, cartridges and three mobile phones from their possession.
On May 1, 2021, SFs arrested six PLFI cadres, identified as Manka Shaluki aka Etwa Shaluki, Sanika Bodra, Sudarshan Soe, Shiva Kumar Bodra, Debra Hembram and Sanjay Bodra, during a search operation in the Tebo Police Station limits in West Singhbhum District. Police received specific information that Hari Singh Sandi Purti, ‘area commander’ of PLFI, with his cadres, was on the lookout for an opportunity to execute a major criminal incident. Though Hari Singh Sandi Purti and some members of his squad managed to escape during the operation, Police arrested six PLFI cadres. Police recovered one country-made carbine and 10 bullets, PLFI pamphlets and levy collection receipts from the arrested cadres.
According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), at least 21 PLFI cadres have been arrested since the beginning of the current year (data till June 13, 2021). During the corresponding period of 2020, seven PLFI cadres were arrested. A total of 29 PLFI cadres were arrested through 2020. Since July 2007, when PLFI was formed, at least 646 PLFI cadres have been arrested.
Though no PLFI cadre has been been killed in the current year, during the corresponding period in 2020, SFs killed five PLFI cadres. In the remaining period of 2020, SFs killed another four, bringing the total to nine, through 2020. Since the formation of PLFI in 2007, a total of 99 PLFI cadres have been killed.
The last PLFI-linked civilian killing was reported on September 4, 2020, when PLFI cadres shot dead a civilian, identified as Nungu Barjo (30), at Khanda village under Bandgaon Police Station limits in West Singhbhum District of Jharkhand. The last SF killing caried out by the PLFI took place on April 8, 2017, when a Sub-Inspector and a Policeman were killed in a gunfight with PLFI cadres in Simdega District.
Since its formation, PLFI has been found responsible for 111 civilian and seven SF fatalities.
PLFI has been on sustained decline in the recent past, but continues with its activities, as the recent incidents suggest. It also continues with its propaganda activities. In the intervening night of January 12-13, PLFI cadres pasted a poster in the heart of Lohardaga town warning ‘police informers’ and businessmen of ‘dire consequences’ if they passed on information about the group to the Police or refused to meet PLFI demands. The poster had slogans praising PLFI’s struggle against ‘capitalist forces.’ In the posters, PLFI urged the poor and labour class to unite against ‘oppressive forces,’ and also warned that industrialists would face PLFI’s wrath if they continued to exploit the poorer classes. Through the poster, PLFI also ‘asked’ the Police not to conduct fake encounters and keep away from targeting innocent villagers.
There is evidence that the PLFI leadership is looking for ‘new strategies’ to restore its strength. A June 9, 2021, report, revealed that the PLFI had prepared a ‘new system’ to spread panic in its operational areas. A squad of PLFI cadres led by ‘area commander’ Kunwar Oraon, would throw pamphlets at the homes of the businessmen, while a second squad led by ‘zonal commander’ Rajesh Gope aka Tilkeshwar Gope, would spread panic by firing and blasting explosives. Interestingly, however, as noted, before the ‘new system’ could be implemented, Police arrested ‘area commander’ Oraon on June 7.
Moreover, reports indicate that, weakened by the SFs’ regular anti-Naxal Operations, PLFI ‘supremo’ Dinesh Gope is trying to connect with unemployed youth in the border areas of Khunti and Simdega, tempting them with an offer of a salary of INR 15,000 a month and 25 per cent of the ‘levy’ (extortion money) share they collect. Gope is also trying to contact criminals and extremists who have come out of jail with offers to join his outfit. To strengthen PLFI, Gope is trying to re-establish a foundation of village-to-village front organizations. Further, reports indicate that PLFI has inducted many new boys in recent times, who are assigned to carry out recces for PLFI. The new recruits have been specially asked to keep an eye on land traders and builders. After a recce, the mobile number and all details are sent to one Awadhesh aka Rat, after which the latter calls the businessmen through WhatsApp and makes a demand for ‘levy’.
SAIR noted earlier that PLFI activities are primarily focused on extortion and the group is more of an organized crime gang than an ‘ideologically driven’ movement.
Meanwhile, according to a June 8, 2021, report, the Jharkhand Police has announced a reward of INR 2.5 million on PLFI ‘supremo’ Dinesh Gope. Apart from this, the Police has also announced a reward on his other associates. A reward of INR 100,000 has been placed on Tilkeshwar Gope aka Rajesh Gope and INR 200,000 each on ‘area commander’ Ajay Purti, Awadhesh Kumar Jaiswal aka Abodh Kumar Jaiswal aka Chuha aka Bihari, Shanichar Surin and Mangra Lugun. While releasing photos of each of these, the Police made an appeal to the common people to give information about them.
Despite having been considerably weakened, PLFI remains a concern, as its efforts to regain lost ground continue. The SF’s targeted operations against the outfit will, consequently, continue, till the elusive ‘chief’ Dinesh Gope and the group at large are completely neutralized.
*Kota Mallikarjuna Gupta
Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management