By Deepak Kumar Nayak*
On August 18, 2022, Police arrested Badal Oraon, a cadre of the People’s Liberation Front of India (PLFI), a splinter group of the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist), from Badchorgai under Bagdu Police Station limits in Lohardaga District. Police recovered several items, including a country-made revolver, from his possession. Lohardaga Superintendent of Police (SP), R. Ramkumar disclosed that, on August 4, a First Information Report (FIR) related to ‘levy’ (extortion) collection was registered at Bagdu Police Station and, taking action in the case, Sunil Munda and Bajrang Lohra were arrested on August 7. Based on information provided by them, a search operation was launched and Badal Oraon, a resident of Jogna under the Senha Police Station area, was arrested.
Elsewhere, on the same day (August 18), Police arrested Topal Munda aka Topal Chutia Purti (25), a PLFI cadre, from near the Lakshmi Narayan High School ground on the Murhu-Sarvada Road under the Murhu Block (administrative unit) in Khunti District. Topal, a resident of Karudih village under the Murhu Police Station, was actively working with PLFI 2020. Half a dozen cases have been registered against him in Murhu, Khunti and Bandgaon Police Stations, under various sections of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA).
On August 7, 2022, Police arrested two PLFI cadres, identified as Sunil Munda and Bajrang Lohra, from Jogiara village under Bagdu Police Station limits in Lohardaga District, for obstructing development construction work and demanding ‘levy’. Sunil and Bajrang have admitted to working for the PLFI under the leadership of its ‘commander’, Krishna Yadav. The items recovered from the arrested duo included, three country-made guns, banners and posters of PLFI, etc.
On August 4, 2022, the Police raided the house of Prakash Lakra aka Prakash Oraon (32), a PLFI cadre, and arrested him from his residence in Ukdimadi Bardhakatoli under Torpa Police Station limits in Ranchi District. Police recovered a country-made revolver, a live bullet and PLFI pamphlets from him.
On August 1, 2022, an ‘area commander’ of PLFI, identified as Badal Lohra, was arrested from the Tupudana area in Ranchi District. More than a dozen cases of attempted murder, robbery, and ‘levy’ extortion were registered against Lohra. He was mainly active in Basia in Simdega District, and Kamdara and Palkot in Gumla District.
According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), at least 38 PLFI cadres have been arrested since the beginning of the current year (data till August 21, 2022). During the corresponding period of 2021 as well, 38 PLFI cadres were arrested. Another 13 PLFI cadres were arrested in the remaining period of 2021, taking the total to 51 through 2021. Since the formation of the PLFI in July 2007, at least 714 PLFI cadres have been arrested.
Mounting SF pressure has also resulted in the surrender of 32 PLFI cadres since July 2007, though not a single surrender has been reported in 2022. The last surrender was reported on March 11, 2018.
Meanwhile, in the campaign against PLFI, Security Forces (SFs) have killed one PLFI cadre in the current year (data till August 21, 2022), as also during the corresponding period in 2021. In the remaining period of 2021, SFs killed another one cadre, taking the total to two, through 2021. A total of 102 PLFI cadres have been killed since the formation of the group in 2007.
On the other hand, the last SF killing caried out by the PLFI took place on April 8, 2017, when a Sub-Inspector of Police and a constable were killed in a gunfight in Simdega District. Since its formation, PLFI has been responsible for seven SF fatalities.
The last PLFI-linked civilian killing was reported on September 4, 2020, when PLFI cadres shot dead Nungu Barjo (30) at Khanda village under Bandgaon Police Station limits in the West Singhbhum District of Jharkhand. A total of 111 civilians have been killed by the PLFI, since its formation in 2007.
Other parameters indicate that the outfit’s operational capacities in the State have suffered during the last few years due to SF successes on the ground. Indeed, no major incidents (resulting in three or more fatalities) involving the PLFI has been reported in 2022, as well as in 2021. The last such incident was on May 28, 2020, when three PLFI cadres, including a woman, were killed while another was injured in an exchange of fire with SFs in the Tabo Valley of the Manmandubera Forest under Tabo Police Station limits, in West Singhbhum District. Further, no incident of explosion has been carried out by the outfit in 2022, as, indeed, in the preceding five years. The last such incident was reported way back on October 16, 2016, when suspected PLFI cadres blew up two concrete sleepers on railway tracks by detonating an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) between Khelari and McCluskieganj stations in Ranchi District.
Though PLFI has been in a sustained decline over the past years, and has failed to carry out any major act of violence, its petty criminal and disruptive activities persist, as borne out by recent incidents.
According to an August 2022 report, PLFI is running a campaign for new recruitment, and is also forcing youth to join at gunpoint.
An August 6, 2022, report indicated that PLFI was giving arms to village youths to carry out the organisation’s subversive activities. This matter came to light during the interrogation of PLFI cadre Prakash Lakra, who was arrested by the Police on August 4, 2022. Prakash told the Police, inter alia, that PLFI had given a country-made revolvers, bullets and pamphlets to Bhikha Oraon in Lakra’s own village, and he was asked to expand the organization by involving other youth.
Another report on May 21, 2022, revealed that PLFI cadres had issued a ‘decree’ in Namkum, Ranchi District, sending a letter to Rajan Tirkey, a young man, to give two AK 47 rifles or INR 2 million for the expansion of the organization. They threatened to kill him if he failed to meet the ‘levy’ demand. Tirkey, who lives in Rampur under the Namkum Police Station area, received the extortion demand through pamphlets and WhatsApp messages – which read “give extortion of 20 lakh rupees [INR 2 million]. If you cannot give money, then arrange 2 AK-47 rifles”.
Further, a January 16, 2022, report, revealed that a Bangladeshi woman infiltrator identified as Anjali Patel aka Kaneez Fatima, who was arrested by Jharkhand Police in Delhi, was involved in supplying money and weapons to PLFI. According to an unnamed officer of the Ranchi Police, in Delhi Fatima met Nivesh Kumar, a Naxalite [Left Wing Extremist, LWE] who hails from Bihar and was living in Ranchi, and started working as a close associate with him, supplying arms to PLFI. An amount of INR 7.1 million and two expensive four-wheelers were seized from Fatima.
PLFI is among the 19 LWE groups operating in Jharkhand, prominently including the CPI-Maoist, as well as other significant splinter groups of the CPI-Maoists including the Tritiya Prastuti Committee (TPC), Jharkhand Jan Mukti Parishad (JJMP), Jharkhand Sangharsh Jan Mukti Morcha (JSJMM), and Jharkhand Prastuti Committee (JPC). PLFI is among the largest CPI-Maoist splinter groups in the state, but operates as more of an organized crime gang than an ‘ideologically driven’ movement. Its activities primarily focus on ‘levy’ (extortion) extraction.
According to an August 18, 2022, report, SFs are preparing themselves for a decisive confrontation with PLFI, targeting the remaining militants in the group. Three years ago, there were 32 PLFI militants with rewards on their heads; their number is now down to just eight. These eight include PLFI ‘chief’ Dinesh Gope, with a reward of INR 2.5 million on his head; ‘regional commander’ Martin Kerketta, INR 1.5 million; ‘zonal commanders’, Tilakeshwar Gope and Arif Ji aka Shashikant, 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.
PLFI has been considerably weakened, but remains a concern, particularly in view of its criminal activities, as well as its efforts to regain lost ground. Despite its decimation, as long as the remaining leadership element are able to evade the SFs, the group will continue to be a nuisance in the state.
*Deepak Kumar Nayak
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management