Firing over the shoulder of splinter groups

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Security personnel take away the bodies after a firefight between CPI (Maoist) and its break away fraction Tritiya Prastuti Committee (TPC) near a village of Chatra district of Jharkhand. PTI Photo

The killing of a Maoist leader in Jharkhand by a splinter Left-wing extremist (LWE) group has raised many questions. The incident points out the state’s role in fighting the LWE problem using Special Police Officers (SPOs) and vigilante groups.

While police claims it to be a ‘fratricidal incident’ between Maoists and the Tritiya Prastuti Committee (TPC), the locals say that TPC cadres stayed back after the incident to give CRPF a ‘tour’ of the village. Reportedly, the outnumbered Maoists wanted to surrender. TPC accepted their surrender, took their arms, rounded them up and killed them. It is not clear however on whose orders the Maoists were killed.

Political observers in Jharkhand say that this incident comes across as ‘revenge’ for the security forces for an ambush in Latehar in January, where at least ten Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel were killed, and some of the CRPF jawans’ bodies were booby trapped.

Last week, Lalesh Yadav, acting secretary and spokesperson of the Bihar Regional Committee of the CPI (Maoist) was killed in an encounter with the TPC in Lakarmanda village in Chatra district of Jharkhand. This incident is a severe blow to the Maoists who are left with no leader to man their operations over Bihar’s most important Gaya district.

Yadav’s immediate senior Rupesh ji, a member of the Maoists’ Bihar-Jharkhand committee said, “It was arranged by the police and CRPF. The villagers gave sedatives to Lalesh and nine others. Lalesh’s group fought back and three of our comrades were killed.” The Maoists have declared 1 April to 7 April as a week of ‘mourning’. “Following this, there will be some retaliation,” said Rupesh.

A week before this incident, Bihar police in Gaya had rounded up several relatives of Lalesh Yadav, while they were attending a funeral ceremony. One of them, Santosh Yadav, Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) district president of Palamu, had been placed under arrest for a pending case.

Yadav oversaw the operations in Palamu district on the Bihar-Jharkhand border and reported to the Maoists’ central committee. Unlike most of his comrades in the organisation, Lalesh started young and rose up to ranks. He was nearly thirty at the time of his death.

Lalesh Yadav had also been trying for the past few months to unite the splinter groups in Jharkhand and had sent letters stating that the groups should re-unite, forgetting their past differences. Compared to their earlier strength, the Maoist cadres are dwindling in numbers in west and south Jharkhand.

Yadav had also been trying to move cadres to Saranda in south Jharkhand, from where the security forces flushed them out during the month-long ‘Operation Anaconda’ in August 2011. Rupesh and Yadav were trying to work out a route to take the west Jharkhand and Bihar cadres to Saranda, but were impeded several times by the security forces.

Last year, Yadav had said that he had plans to expand the operations and was also using frontal organisations to gain sympathy from locals. He spoke with frontal organisations regularly and kept a track of their activities. Yadav claimed to have been a former associate of current Bihar Assembly Speaker Uday Narayan Choudhary, who later turned against Yadav once he was elected MLA from the Imamganj constituency.

Yadav had the support of Maoist leaders of Andhra Pradesh and was waiting to take over as the Jharkhand operational head from leaders like Kundan Pahan, who is reportedly enraged at not having been made the leader of the Jharkhand committee. The opposition of caste and tribal identities led to the splintering of LWE groups such as the TPC and others from the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) around a decade ago.

The Maoists are finding it tough to fill Yadav’s position, and there is bound to be some disagreement between the Andhra Pradesh and Bihar factions, between whom discontent is already brewing.

Though Yadav was a senior cadre, the Maoists are downplaying the importance of his role because they do not want to expose their weak position and lack of leadership. On the other hand, even the police is not taking credit for Yadav’s death as it is shrouded in shame as the TPC, which the police claim to be a vigilante group, killed Yadav in an encounter. The TPC now wears the same uniform as the CRPF, sans the battalion number and insignia.

After Yadav’s death, the funds diverted for countering LWE operations in the state is likely to be cut. The CRPF has set up several camps in west Jharkhand, including the Chatra district, where the incident took place. But they have two major setbacks. They can only operate during the day and their local intelligence network is poor.

The CRPF conduct long range patrols for area dominance from early in the day, but head back to camp by three in the afternoon. While the security forces move with their SLRs, AK-47s, Tavor X-95s, grenade launchers and mortars, the Maoist cadres wade silently through the forests after evening. “When the CRPF have returned into their camps, the ‘party people’ (as Maoists are known in the area) start their movement,” says Kamaljeet Singh, a resident of Mandal village in Latehar.

A senior bureaucrat of Jharkhand said that there are also operational guidelines that, unless there is a specific strike, security forces cannot operate at night for the fear of killing civilians. So it is the vigilante groups such as the TPC that engage with the Maoist cadres at night.

In Palamu, the Jharkhand Jan Mukti Parishad (JJMP), another LWE splinter group, has taken over many of the Maoists’ former ‘liberated’ zones and even patronises schools that were started with Maoists’ funds and cooperation.

An Assistant Commandant of a camp in the Latehar-Garhwa border area of Jharkhand says, “No matter what we do, the locals don’t cooperate with us much about the Maoists’ movements and presence. Usually, they tell us when the Maoists have already left an area. One reason is that they do not want to be caught on the wrong foot with the Maoists who can execute them in their kangaroo courts. Then there are sympathisers and people who want to be out of the conflict situation here.”

While officials of the state police’s special branch are still able to gather some intelligence about the Maoist cadres, the central intelligence agencies are not very effective in these areas, despite their officials being present in large numbers. They rely on the state police’s intelligence mechanisms.

The police is using technology such as satellite imagery and phone tracking, but when it comes to operations, they seem to fall short in execution without help of the splinter groups.

In 2011, Supreme Court had ruled that arming special police officers (SPOs) was illegal and the services of many of the SPOs were discontinued. Accountability not being demanded, using the splinter groups for its operations seems an easier solution on the part of the security forces.

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