By Deepak Kumar Nayak*
On May 21, 2023, Dinesh Gope aka Kuldeep Yadav aka Badku (51), the ‘supremo’ of the People’s Liberation Front of India (PLFI), a splinter group of the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist), was arrested in New Delhi. Though the NIA, in its press release, on May 21, 2023, confirmed that the Agency arrested him from New Delhi, media reports claimed that Gope was arrested from Nepal in a joint operation by the NIA and the Jharkhand Police. An unnamed police official was quoted as saying, “Yes, he has been arrested from Nepal and he is being brought to Delhi where he will be produced before a competent court for further course of action.”
Dinesh Gope, who had been absconding for almost two decades before his arrest, had escaped the police net on several occasions in the past. The last such incident was reported on February 3, 2022, when an encounter had taken place between a Dinesh Gope-led PLFI squad and Security Force (SF) personnel in the forest area under the Gudri Police Station of West Singhbhum District in Jharkhand. The NIA disclosed,
Several rounds were fired in the encounter before the rebels sneaked into the forest and Dinesh Gope managed to escape. He had been absconding since then, and had been taking shelter at different places while making all efforts to re-establish the PLFI’s stronghold in Jharkhand.
The NIA had declared a reward of INR 500,000 for leads on Dinesh Gope, in addition to a reward of INR 2.5 million announced by the Jharkhand Government.
In its release on May 21, 2023, the NIA, which is investigating two PLFI-linked cases, disclosed that according to investigations shown “more than 102 criminal cases are registered against the accused Dinesh Gope in the States of Jharkhand, Bihar and Odisha… most of these cases relate to murders, abductions, threats, extortion, and raising funds for the PLFI.”
SAIR had earlier highlighted the rise of Dinesh Gope and the PLFI – an interesting story of crime, caste, politics and Left Wing extremism (LWE). Sources indicate that Dinesh Gope was a petty criminal working under his elder brother Suresh Gope, who operated in areas around Ranchi. Suresh Gope’s rise had been facilitated by the Rajputs of the area, to counter another gangster, Jayanath Sahu aka Samrat. The Sahus are a powerful business-moneylender community. Suresh was killed in an encounter with the Jharkhand Police on December 22, 2003, when he had gone to collect on an extortion demand. Dinesh was also said to be present, but managed to escape. Thereafter, Dinesh took charge of the gang and worked meticulously to extend its area of operation.
The gang was initially named the Jharkhand Liberation Tigers (JLT) in September 2004. The rivalry with Jayanth Sahu continued, principally over collecting ‘levies’, expanding turf and caste identity. Though he failed to neutralize Sahu, by 2007, Dinesh Gope had secured the support of tribals in the area through clever recruitment and by maintaining ‘good rapport’ with tribal politicians. In July 2007, Masi Charan Purty, a senior ‘commander’ of the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist), defected from the CPI-Maoist with several of his followers. While Purty was being hunted by the Maoists, Dinesh was looking for ways to out-gun Sahu. It was a win-win proposition, and they joined hands to create the PLFI. Purty created a rudimentary structure within the outfit, and provided a cloak of LWE ideology, even as PLFI declared itself a sworn enemy of the CPI-Maoist.
The NIA release of May 21, 2023, noted,
Though Masi Charan Purty was subsequently arrested, the PLFI spread its activities under Gope’s command. He used to collect huge amounts of extortion money, which was further used to procure sophisticated weapons, including AK 47s and foreign made Rifles, such as HK 33.
According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), two PLFI-linked fatalities were reported in 2008. There was significant surge in fatalities thereafter, with the toll remaining in double digits between 2009 and 2014, then dropping down abruptly to five in 2015, to spike to a peak of 30 fatalities in 2016, once again stabilizing in the double digits till 2020, with an exception of 2018 (nine fatalities). There were two fatalities in 2021, one in 2022 and two (one civilian and one PLFI cadre) in 2023 (data till May 28, 2023). A total of 222 fatalities, including 112 civilians, seven SF personnel and 103 PLFI cadres, have been recorded thus far.
From one civilian fatality in 2008, deaths in this category increased to four in 2009 and further to eight in 2010, and thereafter remained in double digits till 2014, with a high of 18 civilian killings recorded twice (2011 and 2013). Though no civilian fatality was recorded in 2015, 14 deaths were reported in this category in 2016. Fatalities remained in single digit between 2017 and 2020. No civilian fatalities were recorded in 2021 and 2022.
SF fatalities were reported in four years: 2009 (one fatality), 2012 (one fatality), 2014 (three fatalities) and 2017 (two fatalities). One or more than one PLFI cadres were killed in each year since 2008, with a high of 16 in 2016.
The number of total PLFI-linked incidents reached a peak of 29 in 2016, but came down to 15 in 2022. Similarly, the number of killing incidents fell from a peak of 21 in 2013 to one on 2022.
The numbers suggest that the PLFI under Gope have remained a challenge to security for a long time, but has, over the last couple of years, lost its strength. The SFs have been able to contain the outfit by targeting its leadership elements as well as the cadre base.
Significantly, an August 18, 2022, report, revealed that, in 2019, there were 32 top cadres of the PLFI with rewards on their heads; this number had been reduced to just eight, including PLFI ‘chief’ Dinesh Gope, with a reward of INR 2.5 million on his head. After the arrest of Dinesh Gope, the other elusive seven include ‘regional commander’ Martin Kerketta, with a reward of INR 1.5 million; ‘zonal commanders’, Tilakeshwar Gope and Arif Ji akaShashikant, INR 1 million each; ‘area commanders’, Balram Lohra aka Jatu aka Majnu, and Novel Sandi Purti, INR 200,000 each; two Local Guerilla Squad (LGS) members, Sukhram Gudiya aka Rode aka Gadwa and Samuel Budh aka Samu, INR 100,000 each.
Meanwhile, according to partial SATP data, at least 20 PLFI cadres, including Gope, have been arrested since the beginning of the current year (data till May 28, 2023). During the corresponding period of 2022, another 20 PLFI cadres had been arrested. A total of 54 PLFI cadres were arrested through 2022. Since July 2007, when PLFI was formed, at least 750 PLFI cadres have been arrested. Moreover, 32 PLFI cadres have surrendered since the formation of the group. 103 PLFI cadres have been killed as well.
Seven incidents of arms and ammunitions recovery have been reported in the current year (data till May 28, 2023), in addition to four such incidents reported in the corresponding period of 2022. Through 2022, there were 15 such incidents. A total of 235 such incidents have been reported since July 2007.
PLFI has been weakened further with the arrest of Dinesh Gope, but remains a concern, particularly in view of the still elusive seven top cadres. Despite its decimation, as long as the remaining leadership elements are able to dodge the SFs, the group will remain an irritant in the state.
- Deepak Kumar Nayak
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management