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A State Of Unrest
No sooner had the Union home ministry identified Jharkhand as the state worst affected by left-wing extremism in 2012 than Maoists gunned down 11 policemen in the Katiya forest of Latehar district. It was almost as if the January 7 massacre of 10 CRPF and one Jharkhand Jaguar jawan was expressly meant to underscore the government’s admission of the sharp ascendancy in the trajectory of Maoist violence in the mineral-rich state.
The clouds of war—civil war to be precise—indeed hang low over Jhar–khand. One needn’t venture deep into the countryside; the siege within is evident virtually at the doorsteps of urban zones like Ranchi, Dhanbad, Jamshedpur, Daltonganj, Chaibasa, Gomoh and Giridih. On a road journey through these areas, Outlook witnessed surreal scenes straight out of a war movie: searchlights revolving menacingly atop fortified CRPF camps; monstrously ugly mine-protected vehicles or MPVs, designed to coolly withstand a 21-kilo (TNT) blast; sniffer dogs straining at the leash; helicopters ready for takeoff at the bark of a command, and boots pounding the ground like there’s no tomorrow.
Indeed, Jharkhand witnessed more killings by Maoists last year than even Chhattisgarh, whose forested Bastar region is regarded as the epicentre of left-wing extremism in India. Out of 409 Maoist killings in 2012 (296 civilian and 113 security personnel), Jharkhand accounted for as many as 160; ahead of Chhattisgarh (107), Orissa (45), Bihar (43), Maharashtra (41) and Andhra Pradesh (13) by a huge margin.
The unacceptably high death toll in Jharkhand’s killing fields last year was capped, as 2013 dawned, by the Katiya bloodbath—unlikely to be forgotten in a hurry after Maoists confessed to planting explosives in the belly of a slain jawan to maximise casualties. And on its heels came a landmine blast in Bokaro’s Jhumra Hills, which left a dozen CRPF jawans severely wounded during combing operations. All this is igniting fears in the security establishment that Jharkhand, along with Bihar’s contiguous Gaya and Aurangabad districts, will upstage the iconic Abujmarh as the bloodiest and biggest theatre of red revolt against New Delhi.
But why is left-wing extremism in full bloom in this tribal state? Telesphore Toppo, the 73-year-old Archbishop of Ranchi and obviously a man of peace, has a blunt explanation: “Jharkhand was created to protect the interests of tribals. But political parties from the word go started exploiting the very tribals whose cause they were supposed to espouse. When Maoists first sneaked into Jharkhand, conditions were ideal for sowing the seeds of rebellion. The seeds they scattered flowered in no time because the ground was fertile. Even today there is no justice in Jharkhand although the state’s coffers are overflowing. And there can’t be peace without justice. Tribal men go to Punjab or Haryana in droves to toil in brick kilns, while the women slog as domestic help in Delhi. Those who are left behind join the Maoists.”
According to Fr Toppo, the tribals—comprising 28 per cent of Jharkhand’s population—are easy pickings for Maoist recruiters not only because of their poverty and backwardness but also due to the excesses committed by security forces. He recalled the killing of a tribal girl by CRPF during Operation Green Hunt in 2010. The victim’s legs and hands were tied to a bamboo pole as though she was not a human being but an animal that had been hunted down. Such barbarism and savagery fuel tribal rage, intensifying the armed conflict between the Maoists and the state.
“Out of 24 districts,” says Jharkhand director-general of police Gouri Shankar Rath, “21 are Maoist-affected today; earlier Maoists were active only in 18 districts.” He is packing his bags for a retired life, but could well be re-employed because he is perceived as a battle-hardened warrior against left-wing extremism. “I have been battling Maoists for 12 years,” he goes on to say. “Forty per cent of my police force is deployed against them. But Maoism hasn’t lost its appeal; in fact, it’s growing dangerously. Now, statistically, we are the worst-affected state.” This is a pity, because, “barring Maoism, on other fronts—caste, communal, agrarian and educational—we are more peaceful than other states.”
Leafing through a classified report, Rath reels off the names of Maoist groups—besides the mainline Communist Party of India (Maoist)—that are on the rampage across Jharkhand: the People’s Liberation Front of India (PLFI), Jharkhand Jan Mukti Parishad (JJMP), Tritya Sammelan Prastuti Committee (TSPC), Shashtra People’s Morcha (SPM), Sangharsh Jan Mukti Morcha (SJMM) and Jharkhand Prastuti Committee (JPC). “In 2011, the Communist Party of India (Maoist) was responsible for 59 per cent of the violence. Last year, it dipped to 44 per cent. But splinter groups, particularly PLFI and TSPC, went into overdrive in 2012, making Jharkhand the worst-affected state in the whole country.”
Rath is not finished yet. “It’s our misfortune,” he says, “that we’re surrounded by Maoist-affected states—Bihar, West Bengal, Orissa, Chhattisgarh, and beyond, Andhra—giving Maoists strategic depth. Another major handicap is our dense forests. Of course, Maoism is no ordinary law and order problem. It’s tied to governance and development—or rather the lack of it! We are saddled with widespread displacement due to mining activities and industrialisation, creating favourable conditions for left-wing extremism to flourish. And to top it all, Jharkhand is politically so unstable; no government here has lasted for five years; there have been eight CMs in 12 years and President’s rule has been clamped on it thrice. So there we are.”
Caste and cash have split Maoists into many groups. It’s resulted in a free-for-all by Maoist and non-Maoist forces.
As Jharkhand entered its third bout of President’s rule in January, New Delhi appointed two bureaucrats to advise Governor Syed Ahmed. The choice of advisors—former home secretary Madhukar Gupta and ex-CRPF DG K. Vijay Kumar (see interview)— clearly show that fighting Maoists is a top priority. Kumar has been given charge of the home department; he is now virtually the home minister of Jharkhand. He has at his command 78 companies of CRPF and 100 companies of state police to take the battle into the “enemy” camp. The “enemy” is the Communist Party of India (Maoist)’s Bihar-Jharkhand-North Chhattisgarh regional committee which is believed to deploy no less than 1,000 soldiers of the People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army (PLGA) in dalams, or armed squad formations, in Jharkhand.
The subtext, though, is more intriguing. There are divisions in both camps, to put it mildly. The Maoists are split into several groups because of two primary reasons—caste and cash. They fight pitched battles over extortion rights, collection of levies and area domination; the conflict leaves many ultras dead. S.N. Pradhan, the crafty IG (operations), admits taking full advantage of Maoist disunity at every step.
Significantly, this finds an echo on the other side: there is a lot of bad blood between the central security forces and the state police. A senior CRPF officer told Outlook: “Instead of leading us, the state police expects us to do everything, from planning to execution. But after we plan an operation and tell the state police to accompany us, they promptly report sick. They expect us to literally carry them on our shoulders. Are they babes in the woods? No. They are a bunch of shirkers who shed crocodile tears when our boys die in encounters.” Central forces also grudge the huge budgets state police have for modernisation; they criticise the “insurgency industry” Maoism has spawned, hinting at a nexus between the police top brass and suppliers. It’s a case of sour grapes, insist Jharkhand police officers, shrugging off accusations.
Of course, while Maoists truly are in an advantageous position in today’s Jharkhand for a variety of reasons, they are no angels either. No doubt there are dedicated ideologues at the top fighting for the oppressed and the downtrodden with all their might. But at the middle and lower levels there are criminals galore masquerading as Maoists. They have no regard for the human rights of either villagers or security personnel. Senior leaders do try to rectify recalcitrant cadres. Classes are held to inculcate comradely values. But very few undergo a change of heart. There are desertions when discipline is enforced. There are plenty of rotten apples even in the Communist Party of India (Maoist) basket but the splinter groups Rath lists are, by all accounts—including confessions of arrested goons—nothing but extortion rackets run by brandishing weapons snatched from police armouries or dead law-enforcers.
Highly-placed officials admit that Jharkhand is witnessing triangular and even quadrangular contests for supremacy. In the fray are state forces, mainline Maoists, breakaway Maoists and outright criminal groups. Sometimes it’s difficult to fathom who is fighting whom. Security forces have an advantage in any multi-cornered contest while villagers are usually at the receiving end. There is large-scale displacement of the poor because of mining and hydroelectric projects. Displacement is accompanied by police repression. State oppression is an open invitation to Maoists to feather their own nest. New projects anyway entail new roads and infrastructure. Pitched battles are fought for bagging contracts. Maoist and non-Maoist forces extort money from contractors; it’s an increasingly violent free-for-all under the shadow of industrialisation, urbanisation and criminalisation.
Alex Ekka, director of Ranchi’s Xavier Institute of Social Service (XISS), told Outlook that fanning Maoism are the MoUs being signed by the government with MNCs. “The state is so servile to big business houses in the era of globalisation that it’s giving MNCs land belonging to tribals. When tribals resist land-grabbing, paramilitary forces are sent to silence protesters. The security forces invariably behave like an occupation army which gives Maoists a golden opportunity to come forward as saviours of the oppressed. In reality, the much-touted Saranda Action Plan (SAP) is a ploy to remove hurdles in the path of foreign and Indian companies eyeing the iron ore-rich region. Maoism is bound to flourish when the state tramples upon the interests of indigenous tribespeople.”
The bomb Maoists planted in the belly of the dead CRPF jawan—which they admitted to doing in a four-page Hindi press release—was not debated as vociferously in the electronic or print media as it should have been because both time and space were hijacked by the LoC beheadings. But a civil rights campaigner who for some strange reason prefers anonymity offered a very original argument in favour of the belly bomb. He said it’s as innovative as ramming planes into the World Trade Center. Just as the wtc attacks were necessitated by America’s crimes against innocents abroad, the belly bomb, he argued, was retribution for the reign of terror unleashed by security forces on Indian soil.
By S.N.M. Abdi in Jharkhand