By South Asia Intelligence Review IBNS | 2 years ago

Six cadres of the People's Liberation Front of India (PLFI), a splinter group of the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist), were killed in a clash with CPI-Maoist cadres in the Namsilli village area of Khunti District, Jharkhand, on July 23, 2013.

In vengeance, around 20 PLFI cadres abducted two CPI-Maoist members from the nearby Ramandag village in the Khunti District on July 24, 2013, and shot them dead. Their bodies were recovered from Eshehatu forest area in the Khunti District on the same day.

In another incident, two CPI-Maoist cadres were killed in a clash with the Tritiya Prastuti Committee (TPC, Third Preparatory Committee), another CPI-Maoist splinter, in the Pratappur Forest of Chatra District on August 1, 2013. A poster found along with the bodies warned CPI-Maoist cadres of more such attacks in the future. Earlier, on March 27, 2013, 10 CPI-Maoist cadres were killed in a clash with TPC cadres in the Lakramanda village of Chatra District.

These incidents are not in isolation. In fact reports indicate that, apart from the CPI-Maoist, PLFI and the TPC, there at least another 16 Left-Wing Extremist (LWE) groups operating in and out of Jharkhand. The other prominent groups include Jharkhand Janmukti Parishad (JJM), Bharatiya Communist Party (BCP), Jharkhand-Chhattisgarh Simanta Committee (JCSC), Jharkhand Jan Mukti Parishad (JJMP), Jharkhand Prastuti Committee (JPC), Jharkhand Sangharsha Jan Mukti Morcha (JSJMM) and Jharkhand Regional Committee (JRC).

According to partial data compiled by the Institute for Conflict Management (ICM), Jharkhand has recorded at least 39 incidents of factional clashes between these groups, resulting in 74 fatalities, since 2007, when the PLFI was formed. Most of these clashes have taken place among the CPI-Maoist, PLFI and TPC cadres. In 2013 (till August 18), LWE groups in Jharkhand have engaged in fratricidal clashes on at least eight occasions, with 22 fatalities. Significantly, it is just these three groups (CPI-Maoist, PLFI and TPC) that have been involved in these clashes.

In fact, since the formation of PLFI, the turf war between these groups has escalated sharply, as they struggle to extend and consolidate their respective influence across the State. The CPI-Maoist, the parent party, has presence across the State, but PLFI has developed its influence in the Ranchi, Khunti, Simdega, Gumla, Latehar, Chatra and Palamu Districts. The TPC is primarily operating in Latehar, Chatra and Palamu Districts. There is an obvious overlap between the areas of influence of the three groups. Moreover, PLFI and TPC have identified and declared CPI-Maoist as their 'principal enemy'. Indeed, Anil, a PLFI cadre who survived the July 23, 2013, Namsilli incident and surrendered before the Police on July 28, 2013, confirmed that the attack on PLFI cadres by the CPI-Maoists was a result of disputed claims over the region: "The area where the attack took place is controlled by the CPI-Maoist. Ram Mohan is the 'area commander'. The organisation (PLFI) decided to try and drive them out. Our mission was to lay the groundwork for it there, by concentrating on Namsilli village. We were there to talk to the villagers to draw them to the PLFI. We had visited the village in the evening. It was out first night of camping in the area."

Director General of Police (DGP) Rajiv Kumar on June 13, 2013, admitted that, between January and May 2013, there has been rise in cases of violence involving Maoist splinter groups. Out of the 181 incidents of LWE violence reported in Jharkhand during the period, 52 per cent were related to the CPI-Maoist; 29 per to PLFI; and 15 per cent to TPC.

Expressing concern over the ongoing factional clashes among various LWE outfits in Jharkhand, Chief Minister Hemant Soren convened a high-level meeting with the top brass of the administration on August 5, 2013, and asked officials to bring the situation under control immediately or face action.

Factional clashes have compounded escalating LWE violence in the State. According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) database, Jharkhand has emerged as the worst LWE-affected State in 2013 in terms of fatalities, with 112 killed, including 34 civilians, 24 SFs and 54 LWE cadres [Chhattisgarh, which ranks second, recorded 102 fatalities, including 45 civilians, 31 SF personnel and 26 LWE cadres].

In 2013, while the CPI-Maoist has been responsible for 44 fatalities (20 civilians and 24 SFs), the PLFI was involved in 14 fatalities (all civilians). Also, while 22 LWEs (21 CPI-Maoist and one PLFI) were killed in Police action, 29 LWEs (17 CPI-Maoist and 12 PLFI) were killed in factional clashes. Two CPI-Maoist cadres were killed while making bombs on January 26, 2013. No details are available regarding the death of one LWE.

LWE groups are, of course, also involved in other violent and disruptive activities that include extortion, arson, bandhs (general shut downs), etc. According to Police estimates, LWE groups in Jharkhand extort approximately INR 1 billion per annum. Commenting on the PLFI's style of functioning, Jharkhand Police spokesperson S. N. Pradhan on August 7, 2013, said, "PLFI is a purely money-minting gang with no ideology or fundamentals."

In addition to the CPI-Maoist, the PLFI and TPC have now emerged as significant LWE forces. Jharkhand State Police under its 'PLFI Action Plan' recently conducted a survey on the cadre strength of the outfit, which found that there were 264 PLFI cadres across Jharkhand - 82 in Ranchi, 55 in Khunti, 44 in Simdega, 44 in Chatra, 17 in Gumla, 14 in Palamu, five in Lohardaga and three in Latehar Districts. According to a media report dated April 5, 2013, the cadre strength of TTP is around 500.

On June 13, 2013, DGP Kumar disclosed that a separate 'Action Plan' against PLFI and TPC had borne results with more than 30 PLFI leaders and cadres having been arrested, besides the arrest of 40 leaders and activists of other outfits.

On August 15, 2013, amidst the fratricidal blood-letting and increasing LWE-linked violence, Chief Minister Soren reiterated the State's earlier stand on talks with the LWEs. The CM said the Government was ready to talk to the LWEs if they abjure violence.

There is, of course, little prospect of such an outcome, as each of the three principal factions escalate their violence in an effort to extend their influence and areas of operation. Unless the SFs are able to neutralize the progressive consolidation of these groups, Jharkhand has little hope of freeing itself of the LWE menace in the foreseeable future.

(The writer Mrinal Kanta Das is Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management)

(The view expressed in the article is of the author and not India Blooms News Service)

(Posted on 20-08-2013)