On July 29, 2009, the Union Minister of State for Home Affairs, Ajay Maken, informed the Rajya Sabha (Upper House of Parliament) that Jharkhand alone accounted for over one third of the Naxalite (Left-Wing Extremist, LWE) violence witnessed by the country in 2009, with as many as 395 incidents reported in the State between January 1 and July 23, 2009. This compares with 484 incidents through 2008.
As with much emanating from the Government, unfortunately, these numbers – or the alternative data given by the State – appear to be somewhat dodgy. The Inspector General of Police (IGP), S. N. Pradhan, the then Spokesperson of Jharkhand Police, disclosed on August 9, 2009, that there had been 228 Maoist attacks till the end of July 2009, as compared to the 245 recorded in 2008 over the same period. He also disclosed that as many as 20 of the ‘most-wanted’ Maoists had been killed in 61 encounters, and that 261 Maoists had been arrested during the year, till July 2009. Pradhan asserted, further, "Maoist infested State of Jharkhand has seen a fall in the number of attacks as compared to the last year. There has been a decline in Maoist violence in Jharkhand State. The success against the banned Communist Party of India-Maoist is a result of credible intelligence."
The decline in incidents notwithstanding, Jharkhand remains in the grip of high levels of Maoist violence, which is becoming increasingly more lethal. According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) database, there has been 177 fatalities in the State, with at least 18 major incidents (incidents in which three or more persons were killed) of Maoist related violence recorded till October 22, 2009. The dead included 59 civilians, 54 Security Force (SF) personnel and 64 Maoist insurgents. During the corresponding period in 2008, the State accounted for 117 fatalities, including 39 civilians, 32 SF personnel and 46 insurgents.
The worst of the Maoist attacks on the SFs in 2009 included:
June 12: At least 13 SF personnel were killed in two separate attacks by CPI-Maoist cadres in Bokaro District.
June 10: 11 Policemen, including a Central Reserve Police Force Inspector, were killed and six others were injured, when CPI-Maoist cadres triggered a landmine explosion targeting their vehicle in West Singhbhum District.
April 16: Cadres of the CPI-Maoist blew up a paramilitary Border Security Force (BSF) bus ferrying BSF personnel from Ladhup to Arah at a place about 125 kilometres from capital Ranchi in Latehar District, killing seven BSF personnel, one helper and the civilian driver of the bus.
In one of their more brutal acts, the Maoists beheaded Police Inspector (Special Branch) Francis Induwar, posted in the Khunti District. The extremists had abducted him on September 30, 2009, and the Police recovered his body at around 9.15am (IST), on October 6 on the Jamshedpur-Ranchi Highway. A note pinned to the body declared that the Police could expect more of the same treatment if Maoist demands were not met. Notably, the Maoists were reportedly demanding the release of two prominent leaders, Kobad Ghandy and Chatrodhar Mahato, who were arrested by the security agencies in Delhi and West Bengal respectively.
The Maoists have also been carrying out widespread killings of civilians, branding many as Police informers. In one of the worst such incidents, the Maoists killed five villagers at Pundigiri under Tamar block, 45 kilometres from Ranchi, in the night of September 6. Earlier, on August 28, four persons, including a 12-year-old girl and a woman, were killed and another was injured by CPI-Maoist cadres, who raided the victims’ home on the outskirts of Ranchi. Beyond these murders, there is a widespread campaign of intimidation and extortion, particularly industries and business establishments operating in this mineral rich State. On October 13, 2009, for instance, two officers of the Panem Coal Mine Project at Amrapara in the Pakur District were shot dead by CPI-Maoist cadres, while they were on a morning walk. On April 5, 2009, the extremists had killed four security guards of the Abhijeet Group at the site office of the group's proposed power plant at Chakla village in Latehar District.
Jharkhand, which had not witnessed any attacks on mobile towers till 2007, saw nine such attacks in 2008, according to a Ministry of Home affairs report. The SATP database has already recorded nine attacks on telephone towers in 2009. Further, frequent bandh (general shutdown) calls and extortion drives by the Maoists continuously hamper the economy, and have frequently brought it to a standstill. On October 12, 2009, for instance, the Maoists enforced the closure of hundreds of stone mining and crusher units situated in the vast stretch under Shikaripara block (administrative division) of Dumka District by putting up posters at various places at Pindargarhia and Haripur Chowk. They warned the owners of the stone mine and crusher units to support the shutdown failing which they would have to face dire consequences.
The Maoists claim to be ‘fighting for the cause of civilians’, but remain hell bent on destroying the State’s education system, and, according to one report, had damaged or demolished some 77 concrete school buildings in the Narayanpur block of Dumka District alone. According to a report on July 23, 2009, moreover, the Naxalites extort funds from Government grants meant for the development of schools. In Latehar, for instance, they demanded INR 50,000 as 'levy' per school. The Naxalites also use threats and intimidation to corner a share of the INR 6.3 million Government funds allocated for construction and development of the schools.
The Maoists continue to extract support from the local populace, whether through fear or sympathy. On October 9, 2009, the Ranchi Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP), Praveen Kumar, noted that people's support to the Maoists in the Bundu and Tamar areas of Ranchi District was emerging as one of the biggest stumbling blocks to anti-Naxalite operations: "Whether it is out of fear or otherwise, the support of villagers that the sub-zonal commander, Kundan Pahan, enjoys in the area, has made him almost invincible… Whenever Police are about to conduct raids in the area, Pahan invariably gets wind of it…" Pahan is believed to be responsible for the beheading of Inspector Induwar, and is notorious as a particularly brutal Maoist leader. Kumar claims to have been "close to the (Pahan) squad two days ago and an encounter took place in which two of their members were shot. But the bodies were taken away by the other members of the group." Notably, however, reports indicate that at least 15 Naxalites were lynched by locals in seven incidents in 2009, thus far.
Despite its dismal strength and deficiency of weapons, transport, equipment and infrastructure, the Jharkhand Police has registered some successes against the Maoists. On July 22, six CPI-Maoist cadres were killed in an encounter with the SFs, which led to the neutralization of three CPI-Maoist camps in the Simdega District. Again on September 22, three Tritiya Prastuti Committee (TPC) cadres were killed and three others were arrested during an encounter between the Police and extremists in the Kumbha Begwari village of Hazaribagh District.
In a major success, on October 10, 2009, the Jharkhand Police arrested an agriculture scientist-who is also a Maoist Central Committee member, Ravi Sharma alias Arjun alias Mahesh, and his wife B. Anuradha alias Rajitha. The couple, who hail from Andhra Pradesh, were running the Maoist outfit in Bihar and Jharkhand since 1999, and were responsible for a number of attacks on the SFs in Jharkhand. Earlier, on August 24, 2009, the Police arrested Anil alias Amitabh Bagchi, a member of the CPI-Maoist Politburo, and Tauhild Mula alias Kartik, associated with the Central Committee. Reports indicate that Bagchi’s area of influence was mostly the undivided State of Bihar since 1991. He was also charge-sheeted in a case of extremist violence at Palamu (now in Jharkhand).
Notably, Jharkhand has some eight active Naxalite groups, including the CPI-Maoist, Jharkhand Prastuti Committee, People’s Liberation Front of India, TPC, Jharkhand People’ Liberation Elam, Sashastra Kranti Committee and the Sashastra People's Morcha. These groups often engage in turf wars over control of areas for extortion. According to the SATP database, at least 10 Naxalites have been killed in four factional clashes in 2009.
Meanwhile, in September, intelligence sources indicated that a large number of armed Naxalites had taken shelter in the Ghatshila sub-division of East Singhbhum District. The Naxalites, reportedly from West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh, had assembled in the hills of Ghurabandha to attend a training camp in Jamshedpur. According to intelligence inputs, about 80 armed extremists had taken shelter at Pawadapahar, which is strategically located and is also considered a safe haven by the Naxalites. An earlier report in July had disclosed that a CPI-Maoist squad led by Madan Mahto, which was active in Lalgarh in the bordering West Midnapore District of West Bengal, had crossed over at Ghatshila in East Singhbhum District. Intelligence sources revealed that the 16-member squad was operating within a 20 kilometres radius of Ghatshila town. The Maoists, mostly hailing from Belpahari area in West Midnapore’s Jhargram sub-division, were reported to have taken shelter in villages like Jhanti Jharna, Basadera and Dainmari — all in dense forests without any motorable road — under the Ghatshila Police Station area near the Bengal border.
The border with Bihar also creates problems for Jharkhand. Admitting this, R.K. Mullick, the Deputy Inspector General of Police (Ranchi Range), stated, "Usually, we share intelligence inputs with our counterparts in Bihar and launch joint combing operations in bordering Districts. The two States have developed a mechanism to combat Naxalites. A meeting of the Inter-State Committee comprising senior police officials of the two States is held every month to chalk out strategy."
Unsurprisingly, amidst rising rhetoric about the launch of an ‘all-out offensive’ by the Centre, the Jharkhand Police launched limited operations in different sectors of the State to check its preparedness before the wider campaign is initiated. Operations by the Jharkhand Police were launched in parts of Bokaro and East Singhbhum. The Inspector General of Police, Pradhan, disclosed that on August 10, 2009, over 700 Police personnel, led by three Superintendents of Police, launched a three-pronged combing operation to flush out Maoist leaders from the hilly forests nestled between Bokaro, Hazaribagh and Giridih. The operation was, however, aborted in the night of August 11. According to media reports, soon after the SFs ventured into the forest, CPI-Maoist ‘commander’ Navin Majhi urged for help from his cadres. Subsequently, Assistant Sub-Inspector Om Prakash Jha and Constable Deepak Bauri were abducted and shot at on August 11. While Jha died on the spot, an injured Bauri was rescued from a field on August 12. "Soon after the news spread, the operation was called off," said an unnamed Police official on October 12. The Inspector General of Police (North Chhotanagpur), Kishan Singh Meena, however, cited Independence Day (August 15) preparations as the reason behind the suspension of the operation.
Recognizing acute deficits, the State Government, on October 13, 2009, approved the raising of 20 additional companies of the Jharkhand Jaguars (JJ), a special force of the Jharkhand Police constituted to tackle the Maoist insurgency. As many as 20 JJ companies are currently deployed in the insurgency-affected areas of the State. Earlier, on August 17, Jharkhand decided to set up an Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) that would have its units in all major cities to tackle any emergency. ATS units will act as Quick Response Teams (QRTs) and would be provided with the latest equipment, dog squads and bomb detection and disposal squads. At present, a special anti-Naxalite force of the JJs operates as a QRT for all critical centres. Separately, on February 20, 2009, the State Government had agreed to open 61 new Police Stations. The advisory committee of the Governor also approved the creation of 4,608 posts in these Police Stations. On August 11, in a meeting of the Advisory Council to the Governor, the State Government decided to set up three counter-insurgency schools. The Council also sanctioned 289 posts of Sub-Inspectors to man Police stations across the State. The Jharkhand Home Secretary, J.B. Tubid, also disclosed that, "Keeping in mind the security of… banks and also industrial units in rural areas, the State has recently notified creation of a Industrial Security Force. Recruitment for the same will commence shortly."
As part of the Government's move to fight Maoists on a different plank, on October 12, 2009, the Government withdrew over 100,000 petty cases slapped on tribals under the Forest Conservation Act. The move is aimed at winning the confidence of locals, who provide a significant support base to the Maoists. On February 13, the Government had announced a rehabilitation package for surrendered Maoists.
On October 22, the Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram said that State Governments and their Police were directly responsible for taking action against the Maoists. He clarified, further, "State Government is bound to take action to ensure peace and the Centre will act only when its assistance is sought.'' As far as Jharkhand is concerned, the Centre does not have the luxury of a cushion – the State is under Governor’s (that is, central) rule, but remains third among the States worst hit by Maoist violence, in terms of fatalities in 2009. On October 22, however, the Union Cabinet announced the dissolution of the present 81-member State Legislative Assembly, clearing the way for fresh Assembly elections.
Whatever its composition, any new Government in Jharkhand will have to deal with severe problems of security and a Maoist insurgency that appears only to be worsening.