Home >opinion >Of hot lips, hubris and the Maoists of Jharkhand

Maoists need to unwind too. That’s how Binod Gonhju came to be at Hot Lips, a Ranchi eatery on 29 June. He was with several friends, including the son of a former minister from Jharkhand. Personnel of National Investigation Agency and local police arrested the key revenue collector of Tritiya Prastuti—or Third Preparatory—Committee (TPC).

Maoists and rebellions in Jharkhand have always had a bizarre tinge to them. TPC is just one of several in Jharkhand born of a marriage of resentment and opportunism. I’ve for some years projected a post-Maoist future, which I like to call Maoism Mark V, in which the central rebellion could splinter into several groups across India. The leaders of these groups would be de-facto warlords.

Jharkhand provides a living example of that future. Here warlord-ism is more prevalent than rebellion, while the state plays both police and provocateur.

It’s a curious history. Before Communist Party of India (Maoist) was formed in 2004 with the merger of Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) and Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) People’s War, MCC controlled rebellion in Bihar, Jharkhand, northern Chhattisgarh and northern Odisha bordering Jharkhand—the Saranda area—and some parts of West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. Operations by security forces have reduced this largely to Bihar, Jharkhand, and northern Odisha. This is still ‘MCC’ in footprint and spirit.

TPC was formed in 2002 when several cadres broke away from CPI (Maoist) in Jharkhand and its perceived domination and discrimination of so-called Dalits by those of the Yadav caste. TPC members are seen as lower down the caste order, for instance, those of the Ghanju community (variously spelt Ganju and Gonjhu).

TPC has for long been considered a shadowy extension of government, a marriage of convenience to neutralize CPI (Maoist)—TPC and CPI (Maoist) have for years hunted the other. The impression was reinforced in 2013, when TPC killed several Maoists in an ambush and took 25 as hostage. A dozen were released to their families by TPC. A report in The Hindu quoted eyewitness accounts claiming that TPC cadres later handed over the bodies of slain Maoists to troopers of CoBRA, or Commando Battalion for Resolute Action, an elite counter-insurgency wing of the Central Reserve Police Force.

TPC and police officials denied collusion, while a TPC spokesperson claimed CPI (Maoist) wouldn’t be permitted in its territory—the reason for the attack.

It’s basically revenue territory fought over by five groups, including CPI (Maoist), TPC and PLFI, or People’s Liberation Front of India, another breakaway. TPC’s area of influence is spread over the districts of Latehar, Palamu and Chatra, with extensions in nearby Ranchi and Hazaribagh. Gonjhu has for years been allegedly extorting money from some of the region’s coalfields, for protection as well as sweetheart deals to facilitate land acquisition, among other things.

So why arrest Gonjhu if he’s an ally? Theories run from excessive personal enrichment without adequate sharing, to his becoming a security irritant at a time when the Bharatiya Janata Party-led state government is under pressure from New Delhi to show results.

Since 2015, Jharkhand Police and paramilitaries have killed or arrested several dozen TPC cadres, including an “area commander", who had in his possession several lakhs of rupees in bank deposits, jewellery and an SUV.

In 2017, a key CPI (Maoist) leader, Kundan Pahan, who was essentially a warlord with impressive political reach in the borderlands of Jharkhand and West Bengal, surrendered to police in Jharkhand. I shan’t be surprised at Pahan’s formal emergence as a political candidate.

Meanwhile, turf wars will continue for influence and revenue. I recall a conversation from some years ago with a financier in Hazaribagh, well-connected with rebel groups and the police.

“In the old days it was clear: People’s War and MCC. First they fight. Then they unite. But the territories are same, na?" he explained the logic as we chatted at his residence. “How you will feel," he jabbed a finger at me, “if someone asks for your share?"

“Not nice," I replied.

“Ek-jack-lee. Naturally na?’

Root Cause focuses on conflict situations and the convergence of businesses and human rights, and runs on Thursdays.

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