By Mrinal Kanta Das*
A top ranking woman Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) cadre, identified as Sarita aka Urmila Ganjoo, was killed and another cadre was injured in an encounter with Security Forces (SFs) in the Gaya District of Bihar on May 17, 2015. Sarita was a member of the erstwhile Bihar-Jharkhand ‘special area committee’, which was replaced by the East Bihar Eastern Jharkhand Special Area Committee (EBEJSAC), and carried a reward of INR 1.5 million on her head. Acting on a tip-off that some Maoists had gathered near the Tiletand locality to collect INR 20 million as ‘levy’ from a construction company on the night of May 16, four companies of the Commando Battalion for Resolute Action (CoBRA) reached the place. In the ensuing encounter, which continued throughout the night, Sarita was killed and another Maoist was injured, Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) Inspector General (IG), Bihar, Arun Kumar disclosed. A walkie talkie, an INSAS rifle and a haul of ammunition were recovered from the spot. The SFs also arrested 10 Maoists, including CPI-Maoist’s Magadh Zone Secretary, Upendra Baitha alias Sanjeevan, and ‘Treasurer’ of the ‘Magadh Zone’, Gorelal Ramani. Ramani carried a reward of INR 300,000 on his head; while Baitha had a bounty of INR 25,000.
Protesting against the killing of Sarita Ganjoo, the Maoists set ablaze at least 30 trucks on the busy Grand Trunk road in Gaya District in the intervening night of May 24-25, 2015.
Earlier, on May 10, 2015, during an anti-Maoist operation, Bihar’s Jamui District Police Special Task Force (STF) and CRPF troopers seized a huge cache of explosives that included 26 bags of ammonium nitrate, each containing 25 kilograms, and nine printed cloth banners appealing to people to boycott the forthcoming State Assembly elections.
On April 3, 2015, SFs had seized another cache of arms and ammunition from a Maoist hideout in the Rohtas District of Bihar. The weapons’ cache included three single bore guns, a country-made pistol, 12 rounds of ammunition, 50 kilograms of ammonium nitrate, 50 kilograms of other explosives, and 2,350 detonators. The SFs also defused an improvised explosive device (IED) that the Maoists had planted on the road of Chunhatta village (Rohtas District) to prevent security men from reaching there.
On March 14, 2015, SFs had recovered over 7,000 detonators, 3,000 gelatin sticks, 2,000 kilograms of ammonium nitrate and a carbine during an anti-Maoist operation in Rohtas District.
There has, nevertheless, been a sharp drop in Maoist related incidents in Bihar. According to partial data compiled by South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), there have been five fatalities, including one civilian, two SF personnel, and two Maoists, in Left Wing Extremist (LWE)-related incidents in the first four and half months of 2015, as compared to 13 killed, including six civilians, five SF personnel and two militants, in the same period of 2014. Further, a total of 49 Maoists have been arrested in Bihar this year, as of May 24, 2015.
Meanwhile, in Jharkhand, CPI-Maoist cadres attacked a Central Coalfields Limited [CCL, a subsidiary of Coal India Limited (CIL)] office, in the Latehar District of Jharkhand, killing one civilian and injuring several others on May 13, 2015. The Maoists fired around 10 rounds and beat up workers who were present at the office. During the firing, a driver was hit, and later succumbed to his injuries.
On May 6, 2015, a Maoist squad killed a villager, identified as Ravindra Ganjhu, at Lakarmanda village under the Kunda Police Station limits, in the Chatra District of Jharkhand, after branding him a Police ‘informer’ and Tritiya Prastuti Committee (TPC) member. TPC is a CPI-Maoist splinter group and is engaged in a bloody turf war with its parent organization in Jharkhand.
Despite these incidents, Maoist activities remained roughly at the same subdued level as the past year in Jharkhand, with the current focus principally on Chhattisgarh. According to partial data compiled by SATP, in the first four and half months of 2015, 31 persons, including 11 civilians, two SF personnel and 18 LWEs have been killed in the State, in comparison to 31 persons, including 18 civilians, six SFs and seven LWEs in the same period in 2014. While civilian and SF fatalities declined, LWE casualties have increased. It is useful to recall that Jharkhand recorded 217 fatalities in 2009, and 157 in 2011.
Significantly, among the 18 LWEs killed in Jharkhand in 2015, at least 10 belonged to CPI-Maoist, the highest number of cadres the group has lost in any single State this year. This has occurred at a time when the Maoists appear to be concentrating their activities in the Bastar Division of Chhattisgarh, while seeking to maintain their presence in other areas, with an emphasis on preserving strength.
Interestingly, a couple identified as Deepeshwar Mehta and Dhaneshwari Devi, allegedly involved in illegal trade and supply of explosives to the CPI-Maoist, were blown to pieces in a forest under the Padma Police Station area in the Hazaribagh District of Jharkhand on May 5, 2015, while carrying explosives and other inflammable items.
Acting on a tip off, the Bokaro District Police of Jharkhand and CRPF personnel arrested a CPI-Maoist ‘sub-zonal commander’ of the erstwhile ‘Bihar-Jharkhand special area committee’, identified as Rohit Marandi alias Rohit Manjhi, carrying INR 500,000 reward on his head, from Kashitand Forest under the Gomia block in Bokaro District, on May 18, 2015. Following his interrogation, a Light Machine Gun (LMG) that was looted from the CRPF in 2001, was also recovered and other explosives were seized in another forest at Ulanz village under the Katkamsandi Block near the Hazaribagh-Chatra District borders.
On February 14, 2015, acting on a tip-off, SFs seized some 6,000 kilograms of ammonium nitrate and 20,000 detonators from Lohardaga District of Jharkhand.
Meanwhile, according to a May 14, 2015, report, some 300 villagers in the Gumla District of Jharkhand were meeting day and night, to protest Maoist efforts to recruit school children into their camps. No further detail about such meetings is available in open sources. Further, on May 19, 2015, villages around Dalma Wildlife Sanctuary in the West Singhbhum District of Jharkhand sought paramilitary cover against Maoist atrocities and demanded compensation for those killed by the Maoists since 2009. Close to 1,100 people from hamlets under Patamda and Nimdih Police Stations in West Singhbhum and Saraikela-Kharsawan Districts took out a rally in Ranchi, the State capital. The protestors attempted to gherao the Chief Minister’s residence on Kanke Road. Asit Singh Patra, the President of Dalma Anchalik Samiti (Dalma Regional Forum), noted, “They (the Maoists) have been threatening, beating and killing us for over six years. We want government protection.” Armed with bows and arrows, axes and bamboos, the protestors held banners that read “No atrocities in the name of Marx, Engels and revolution. Get out of Jharkhand.”
Shedding some light on Maoist activities in Bihar and Jharkhand, CRPF IG RK Mishra stated, on May 12, 2015, “Maoists don’t demarcate their field of activities in Jharkhand and Bihar by State borders. Instead, the areas have been divided into various zones being controlled by separate teams such as Jharkhand Regional Committee (JRC) and Bihar Regional Committee (BRC), where Districts of both States are listed. So, both Jharkhand and Bihar are affected by rebel presence in the whole region.” Districts of Bihar such as Banka, Munger, Bhagalpur, Jamui and Nawada come under JRC. Jharkhand’s Godda, Sahebganj, Deoghar, Dumka, Jamtara, Giridih, Bokaro, Dhanbad, Hazaribagh, Ramgarh, Ranchi, Khunti, Saraikela-Kharsawan, West Singhbhum and East Singhbhum are also part of the JRC’s area of operation. BRC also operates in Jharkhand Districts like Palamau, Chatra, Latehar, Gumla, Lohardaga, Gumla and Simdega. Jehanabad, Gaya, Aurangabad, Rohtas and Kaimur in Bihar fall under BRC’s jurisdiction.
Interestingly, the People’s Liberation Front of India (PLFI), a Jharkhand based LWE group, claimed responsibility for the March 30, 2015, blast at the Bahadurpur Housing Colony flat in Patna. Patna Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Jitendra Rana claimed that the interrogation of Kundan Rai, one of the main accused in the case, who was staying in the flat on rent, revealed that PLFI wanted to extend its operations into Bihar. Meanwhile, a media interview of PLFI chief, Dinesh Gope, published on May 12, 2015, claimed that PLFI had 7,000 to 8,000 cadres across five States, including Jharkhand, Bihar, Odisha, West Bengal and Chhattisgarh. Gope added that PLFI was talking to tea garden labourers to extend its base into Assam, after having spread into Uttarakhand and Haryana. He also claimed that his cadres were in Sri Lanka, Mauritius, China and Nepal, for talks with “like-minded organizations.”
The Maoist leadership is aware that their movement in India is passing through a difficult time. They nevertheless continue to believe that the ‘revolutionary situation in India is excellent’ and that the current reverses they have suffered are an integral part of the dynamics of protracted warfare, and that a turnaround is imminent. While their networks and organisational structures across their areas of past dominance have suffered tremendous damage, their determination to persist with their ‘people’s war’ shows little diminution. As in the past, Assembly elections in Bihar and Panchayat elections in Jharkhand towards the end of 2015 could provide some opportunity to the Maoists to increase violence.
* Mrinal Kanta Das
Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management