The tale of adivasi warlord Kundan Pahan

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Illustration: Mayanglambam Dinesh

KUNDAN PAHAN — perhaps only the second Adivasi from Jharkhand to become a member of the CPI(Maoist)’s Bihar-Jharkhand-North Chhattisgarh Special Area Committee (SAC) — had first grabbed the attention of the national media in October 2009 with the abduction and gruesome beheading of Francis Induwar, 37, an Adivasi police officer working with the intelligence wing of Jharkhand Police. Induwar was picked up by Kundan’s squad from Arki market in Khunti district and taken to the forests near Bundu in Ranchi district. The Maoists demanded the release of three leaders, including politburo member Kobad Ghandy, currently lodged in Tihar jail in Delhi. A week later, Induwar’s body, along with the severed head, was found at Namkum, 12 km from Ranchi. This brutal murder sparked outrage in civil society and was even criticised by the then CPI(Maoist) spokesperson Azad.

With a bounty of Rs 5 lakh on his head, Kundan is today one of the ‘most wanted’ Maoists in Jharkhand — and a symbol of all that is wrong with the state. With a section of the political establishment in cahoots with crony business  houses, the state has become a battleground for a whole array of violent militant groups, promising nothing but a slow bloodbath in the coming decade. The shocking brutality of Induwar’s beheading is just one strand of the narrative of Kundan’s life, which intermeshes with other threads of a sad yet significant tale of how young Adivasis in Jharkhand’s impoverished hilly and forest tracts end up as Maoist outlaws, hunted by, and hunting, other Adivasis — not just members of security forces, but also of rival armed groups (which are sometimes encouraged by the police to take on the Maoists and then disowned). The story of this Adivasi Maoist leader also shows how the CPI(Maoist), despite its claims to be fighting for the rights of Adivasis, seems to operating more like a brigand’s gang in Jharkhand, with high stakes in the “extortion economy” and involving a bloody turf-war with other armed groups.

More than two years before the infamous beheading of Induwar, Kundan’s squad had been named in the March 2007 killing of Jharkhand Mukti Morcha MP Sunil Mahato in Baguria. Another high-profile murder followed in July 2008; this time the victim was JD(U) MLA and former minister Ramesh Singh Munda. Many believe the killings were “punishment” for breaking the promises made to Kundan during elections. “Show me one politician in Jharkhand worth his salt who has not struck a deal with the Maoists or other militant groups during elections. Without Maoist support, no politician can ever find a foothold in the hilly, forested constituencies,” says a top cop, who has worked with the Intelligence Bureau (IB), on condition of anonymity.

In May 2008, Kundan’s squad looted Rs 5.5 crore from an ICICI Bank van (sources say he sent less than Rs 1 crore of this to his party). Two months later, they triggered a landmine blast killing six cops, including Bundu Deputy SP Pramod Kumar.

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According to sources, Kundan’s squad has killed over 100 people in the past four years — alleged police informers, Special Police Officers (SPOs), dissenting villagers and security personnel. While sympathisers speak of the dangers of having police informers in the villages, the police hold almost a personal grudge against him for what he has done to their colleagues.

Moreover, Kundan is known to have scant regard even for his party’s diktats and has often challenged its “Bengali and Bihari leadership” in this zone. So why did he join the Maoist party? Among several tales doing the rounds, the most cited relates to a land dispute in which his father lost a plot to his uncle.

Kundan, now 35, was born to a family of Pahans (Adivasi priests). His childhood friend Mahadev Munda recalls that he was a slow learner at school. He first left his village Barigada when an engineer from Gaya, who was building a dam across the Kanchi river nearby, hired 12-year-old Kundan to look after a Jersey cow. When he returned after three years, the land dispute between his father and his uncle had begun. Two years later, he joined the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC), which merged with the People’s War Group (PWG) to become the CPI(Maoist) in 2004. By 1997, he had become the MCC’s Bundu-Tamar area commander.

Kundan is known to have often challenged the CPI(Maoist)’s ‘Bengali and Bihari leadership’ in Jharkhand

Bikram Lohra, a rice-mill worker from a neighbouring village, is said to have inducted Kundan into the party. Bikram was shot dead by the Maoists after he became a police informer and SPO around 2001. According to a former aide, Kundan never spoke out against Bikram, possibly because of some strange feeling of servitude. However, nobody harbours any illusion about Kundan’s plans for Dhananjay Munda, a close aide who surrendered and become an SPO. Today, Dhananjay is said to be a major asset for the police force, helping in strategising anti-Maoist operations.

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