Jharkhand Assessment 2008
The Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) heralded a new phase of its activities in Jhakhand by claiming responsibility for the March 5, 2007, killing of Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) Member of Parliament (MP) Sunil Mahato. In what appeared to be a mere bravado at that point of time, the outfit’s spokesperson, on March 19, 2007, vowed to take the ‘revolution’ from its current ‘guerrilla warfare phase’ in Jharkhand – in which the group fights for ‘area domination’ by escalating levels of violence – to the stage of ‘mobile warfare’ – in which the extremists actually control ‘liberated areas’, over the succeeding months. While no ‘liberated areas’ have yet been carved out, it is clear that a strategy of augmenting violence has, indeed, taken shape in the State. Worse, there is no denying the fact that the state’s anti-Maoist campaign is currently on the backfoot and, as the fatalities index indicates, there is little effort on the part of the Security Forces (SFs) to seek contact and engage with the rebels.
Insurgency related fatalities in Jharkhand: 2006-2007
Source: Data 2006: Union Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, Provisional Data 2007:
Institute for Conflict Management (ICM)
Data on insurgency related killings serve as a ready reckoner. Compared to 144 fatalities in 2006, Jharkhand recorded 120 fatalities in 2007 according to conservative provisional estimates by the Institute for Conflict Management (based on open-source monitoring). State Police sources, however, indicate that over 150 extremism-related fatalities had already occurred in Jharkhand by the end of November. The trend of unabated extremism was confirmed by the Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil on November 21, when he admitted that Left Wing extremism-related incidents in Jharkhand has already gone up by 50 percent in the current year, as compared to 2006.
State Police sources indicate that 18 of a total of 24 Districts are affected by varying degrees of Left Wing extremism and violence. Over the last two years, however, Maoist activities, if not violence, have been reported form at least 23 Districts in the State. At present, 14 Districts are ‘highly affected’, four Districts ‘moderately affected’ and five ‘marginally affected’. The areas where Maoist dominance was at its peak in 2007 include the Santhal Pargana, comprising the eastern Districts of Dumka, Deoghar, Godda, Pakaur and Sahibganj, which share borders with Bihar and West Bengal. Conservative estimates by intelligence sources in the State indicate that nearly 1,200 of the 4,564 panchayats (village level local administration) in the State are under the complete influence of the Maoists. The Maoists are, in fact, in a position to dictate the electoral outcome in over 30 percent of the State’s Assembly constituencies, particularly in Palamu, Giridih, Chatra, Koderma, Gumla, Lohardaga, Garhwa and parts of Ranchi Districts. In as many as 15 Districts, large areas have been converted into ‘guerrilla zones’, where the writ of the Maoist People’s Guerrilla Army (PGA) dominates. The rebels have raised ‘police’, ‘judicial’ and ‘administrative’ wings to run a parallel administration in these areas, which they are seeking to re-designate as ‘liberated zones’.
The disruptive capacities of the Maoists over an overwhelming proportion of the State’s geographical expanse has allowed them to carry out selective killings of civilians, politicians and their relatives, who are regarded as inimical to the group’s interests. These targeted killings at least partly explain the high proportion of civilian fatalities in the State in 2007. These killings included at least two high profile targets in 2007, including that of JMM MP Sunil Mahato, who the Maoist’s claimed was attacked because of his involvement in the Nagrik Suraksha Samiti (NSS, the Citizens’ Defence Council), an anti-Maoist state sponsored movement. The second important attack was the October 26 killing of former Chief Minister Babulal Marandi’s son, Anup, in Chilkhari village of Giridih District, along the Bihar-Jharkhand border. The Maoists described this latter strike as a ‘case of mistaken identity’, with their spokesperson subsequently stating, "Our main target was Nunulal Marandi, the brother of Babulal Marandi. Nunulal was instrumental in the killing of several CPI-Maoist members and he has been raising his voice against our revolutionary movement." In addition, more than 20 alleged ‘police informers’ have been killed by the Maoists since 2006 in different parts of the State.
Official estimates of the ‘hardcore’ armed Maoist cadres in Jharkhand suggest a threefold increase from about 100 to over 300 over the 2005-2007 period, and a tremendous expansion of mass mobilisation and front organisation activities across the State, creating a wider ‘militia’ and sympathiser base. Jharkhand witnessed at least three operations involving CPI-Maoist’s people’s militia during 2007. On February 5, a civilian was killed and two others injured, when an estimated 200 Maoist cadres attacked an SF picket at Lawalong in the Chatra District. On April 6, six people, including two SF personnel, were killed when about 300 CPI-Maoist cadres attacked a Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) camp and the adjoining Gandhinagar Police Station building in the Bokaro Thermal Power city area of Bokaro District. On August 6, over a hundred Maoists attacked the Chainpur Police Station in the Gumla District, without inflicting significant damage, in the face of stiff SF resistance.
There are also clear indications of an abundance of weaponry with the Maoists, who have secured access to a profusion of land mines, which have been used to great effect on both tarred and un-tarred roads to target SF contingents. Landmine explosions have resulted in at least 170 SF fatalities since 2001, and a wide range of sophisticated devices have been used, including Claymore mines, as well as camera flash , mobile phone and radio signal detonation devices. Reports indicate that State Police personnel have stopped long range night patrolling due to the landmine threat.
Finances have never been a constraint on Maoist activities in the State. Jharkhand’s forest and mineral resources and related industries provide an almost limitless source of extorted revenues. Jharkhand Police documents suggest that a section of contractors, transporters and businessmen involved in illegal mining pay over INR 400 million annually as ‘levy’ to the CPI-Maoist in the State. Another lucrative source has been the ongoing Centre’s Golden Quadrilateral road building project. Extortion from the common folk is at INR 10,000 per farmer per year, virtually across the State.
The dominance of the CPI-Maoist, with over 2,700 armed and political cadres, appears to be augmenting across the State, despite the splits and factionalism that has come to haunt the outfit in recent times. Currently, four extremist groups, each a breakaway faction of the CPI-Maoist, operate in the State. The Tritiya Prastuti Committee (TPC, Third Presentation Committee) has an estimated 70 cadres; the Jharkhand Liberation Tiger (JLT) has about 40 cadres; while the Sasashtra Jansanghrash Shakti Morcha (SJSM, the Armed People’s Struggle Power Front) and the Jharkhand Prastuti Committee (JPC) have around 60 cadres each. The TPC claims to have expanded its organisation across the State, and has declared that its "main enemy is not the Police machinery, but the CPI-Maoist". The JLT, established in early 2007, has formations in the Palamu, Daltonganj and Latehar Districts, and is making progressive inroads into the CPI-Maoist stronghold in the Saranda Forest. Occasional internecine clashes have been reported among each of these groupings.
In spite of the claims of expansion by these fringe groupings, such splits and factionalism have had only limited impact on the CPI-Maoist. However, the violence profile in the State has certainly assumed wider proportions as a result of the occasional acts of insurgency by each of these groups. In a recent incident on November 22, 2007, SJSM cadres abducted and killed a senior political activist of the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) at Mokama village in the Chatra District.
SF operations against the Maoists have, of course, had a measure of success. Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) data for the current year (till July 31) indicates that 133 Maoists were arrested in the State. Among them is the CPI-Maoist politburo member Misir Besra, who was arrested on September 20 along with an associate from Madnadih village in the Giridih District. State Police sources indicate that since the creation of the State in November 2000, 8,500 kilograms of explosives, 2,000 firearms of various makes, 45,431 rounds of ammunition, and 1,033 bombs and landmines, were also recovered during different combing operations and raids against the extremists.
Three major weapons’ seizures also occurred in 2007. On January 23, a consignment containing dismantled parts for arms, including three boxes of assemblies for mortars weighing 90 kilograms, was seized from a private transport firm in Ranchi. Again, on April 14, 2007, the Dumka District Police arrested a CPI-Maoist cadre and recovered 400 bags of explosives and 3,000 detonators from his possession. On November 18, raids across six villages in the Keredari Block, a Maoist stronghold in the Hazaribagh District, yielded 100 kilograms of powergel pyromex (a high strength emulsion explosive primer), 100 kilograms of nitric acid, huge quantities of wires and detonators. The Maoists had planned to target at least 20 bridges in Chatra and Hazaribagh with these explosives.
In the second week of September 2007, the Jharkhand Government launched Operation Black Thunder (OBT), a special security initiative across 18 Districts to counter the Maoist activities in the State. Contrary to initial high expectations, the achievements of OBT have been limited. Thereafter, following the October 26 killing of Anup Marandi, both Jharkhand and Bihar launched coordinated operations in the border Districts. The operation, however, lasted only for a few days before being abandoned in view of limited gains.
The effectiveness of such operations has been severely affected by the endemic deficits of capacity among the State Police. As a result, such initiatives have laid too much emphasis on the central para-military forces (CPMFs) and have tended to be marred by the inherent shortcomings of these ‘outsider’ forces as well as the inadequacies of deployment. Jharkhand claims to have addressed the abysmal police-population ratio problem, mostly through the appointment of 14,265 constables in 2004 and 2005. This has reportedly augmented the police-population ratio to (a somewhat incredible) 163.58 by 2006 (as against a national ratio of 142) from 74 in 2004. The Police density (policemen per 100 square kilometre area) has also risen to 59.50 (as against the all India average of 48.89). No recruitment, however, has been made at the Sub Inspector (SI) level, with the result that there is a complete vacuum of leadership. An acute deficiency also exists in the Indian Police Service (IPS) cadre – where just 70 of the sanctioned strength of 110 officers are available in the State, as a result of which dozens of Districts are headed by State Police Service Officers, and over 25 per cent of IPS posts are still lying vacant. The low recruitment at officer levels has also affected intelligence operations, with the special branch of the State Police severely understaffed, bereft of competent officers and modern surveillance equipment. Similarly, Police Stations, Posts and Pickets in rural and Maoist afflicted areas are appallingly maintained and have severe manpower and leadership shortages.
Jharkhand’s record of utilisation of centrally allocated funds for Police modernisation is also poor. According to the MHA, Jharkhand received INR 1.827 billion under the modernisation scheme between 2000 and 2006, but utilisation has been abysmal. In 2004-05, for instance, the utilisation of the INR 210 million released was a minuscule 7.33 per cent.
Of late, Jharkhand has openly talked about replicating the ‘Andhra Pradesh model’ in its counter-Maoist campaigns. New initiatives against the extremists include the proposed raising of five new India Reserve Battalions (IRBs) in the State, adding to the two IRB battalions already in existence. Proposals have been approved for the recruitment of about 5,000 youth from Maoist-prone Districts for these new battalions. The State is also raising two battalions comprising ex-Army personnel to be deployed mostly in the Maoist affected Districts. There is also a proposal to raise motorcycle squads, equipped with sophisticated weapons, to fight the Maoists. State Police officials feel that the men on motorcycles will be less vulnerable to landmine blasts than personnel on four-wheel vehicles. A Geographical Information System (GIS) centre to track the movement of Maoists is also proposed for the State. The State Police is also in the process of acquiring new electronic surveillance systems. However, these measures will require some time to implement and even more time to show results, and will continue to be hampered by the Police leadership deficits in the State.
There is ample reason to believe that Jharkhand’s capacity constraints, as in the case of each of the States struggling to devise a response against the raging insurgency, have been fallouts principally of deficiencies in the political leadership. The State’s political masters, rugged believers in the capacity of the state to withstand any threat, have, for long years, simply refused to anticipate that vast stretches of the territory under their administration can actually fall into the hands of the guerrillas, and have consequently and chronically neglected policing and internal security issues. The year 2007 reflects a partial awakening of Jharkhand’s political leadership from this protracted slumber, and it is to be expected that the fight against the red terror will be a long and arduous one.