Given that a force-centric policy, in which the states are inclined to use vigilante groups and former Maoists against the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist), is largely seen to have taken precedence over the other identified components of the official anti-Left-wing Extremism (LWE) strategy, what sort of end game can one foresee in the next five years? Will the efforts of the Indian state result in a complete defeat of the CPI-Maoist, thereby resolving the problem of left-wing extremism? Or will the CPI-Maoist’s absence merely lead to an enabling environment for smaller extremist groups to thrive? Jharkhand’s experience points at the second possibility. An operationally convenient and yet shortsighted policy pursued by the state that encourages the smaller factions or vigilante groups to operate against the CPI-Maoist may end the bigger problem to a large extent. However, the resultant vacuum is likely to be exploited by these very agents of change to keep the fire of extremism, if not revolution, burning.
In Jharkhand, the ‘unofficial’ policy of using factions of the CPI-Maoist against the parent outfit was a direct result of the operational constraint of not having enough policemen on the ground to fight the extremists. The state had been carved out of Bihar in 2000. In 2002, the first year for which official data on police strength is available for the state, Jharkhand’s total strength of police personnel stood at a meager 10,493. For a state spread over 79,714 sq km, it meant a police density (policemen for a 100 sq km area) of 13. By 2005, the total strength had increased to 24,563, but still translated to a police density of 30. The state police establishment was in no position to resist the surge of the CPI-Maoist’s activities that had begun in 2004, immediately after the outfit’s formation. By 2010, the strength and density had increased to 46,613, representing a police density of 58. In comparison, geographically smaller states like Tripura, Punjab and Haryana had a police density of 231, 132, and 107, respectively.
Under an unofficial policy, Superintendents of Police in various LWE affected districts in Jharkhand started exploiting the fissures that had started appearing in the CPI-Maoist’s ranks along caste lines. Tribal versus non-tribal, tribal versus tribal, and upper caste versus lower caste divisions played out as the outfit desperately failed to use its ideology to unite its diverse array of foot soldiers and medium and low rank leaders. The People’s Liberation Front of India (PLFI), the Tritiya Prastuti Committee (TPC), and the Jharkhand Jana Mukti Parishad (JJMP) were some of the prominent groups that emerged breaking ranks with the CPI-Maoist. Each of these outfits present a fascinating narrative of collusion with the state and the operational benefits they provided the state’s ineffectual police force.
In 2011, about 50 former Maoist cadres set up the JJMP. The JJMP not only carried out operations against the Maoists, but also picked winning candidates in the Panchayat elections by forcing candidates who did not meet its approval to withdraw from the polls. By 2015, the JJMP had nearly tripled its strength. While the state officially denies links with the JJMP, private conversations with police officials reveal the strategy of divide and rule – of pitting former Maoists against their erstwhile colleagues. In its short existence, the VRGI headed by Pankaj Munda led operations against Kundan Pahan, the CPI-Maoist’s senior cadre in Jharkhand. Both the TPC and the PLFI similarly led a number of operations against the CPI-Maoist and none against the state or the central police forces.
In 2013, Jharkhand’s police strength and police density stood at 56,415 and 71, respectively, a significant improvement over 2005, although nowhere close to the internationally recommended figures for conflict affected states. However, with assistance from central armed police personnel, the state is much better prepared to take on the extremists. Not surprisingly, its dependence on the militia groups has reduced and it is in a much better position to disown them and even consider operations against some of these groups like the PLFI. Some police officials have even been quoted in the media claiming withdrawal of support to such groups. However, groups like the JJMP today are financially independent, collecting about five per cent from all contractors operating in the districts of Gumla, Lohardaga and Latehar districts. The PLFI does the same in Khunti district. Reports have indicated that the JJMP has attempted to siphon funds meant for the flagship MNREGA programme by threatening the beneficiaries. The withdrawal of financial support is less likely to impact their operations.
CPI-Maoist’s capacity to orchestrate violence has dipped considerably in Jharkhand. And yet there is little respite from violence, extortion and other criminal activities, predominantly led by groups such as the JJMP and PLFI. The policy that economised the state’s effort against the CPI-Maoist for a number of years has created these little monsters whose agenda may not include replacing the state structure. But in terms of rebuffing the state’s writ over a large part of its territory and running a criminalised enterprise, they continue to be inherently successful. The apparent anticipation of the officials that these fratricidal wars would consume both the big and the small outfits has proved to be wrong.
This article was published at IPCS.