| A crowd gathers outside the prison as security personnel keep watch. Picture by Deepak Kumar
Jehanabad, Nov. 14: By this evening, Ajay Kanu, 35, the Maoist “area commander” in jail since 2003, was almost certainly out of Bihar.
Ten days ago, confided prisoners who chose to stay back in the Jehanabad jail, the Maoists had presented Kanu with 50 kg of fish for a feast and Rs 50,000 in cash. Five days later, they supplied an even higher quantity ' 100 kg ' and told the jail staff to ensure that on the night of November 13, all inmates are served with specially prepared kheer as dessert.
Police now believe that the prison staff were “compromised” and threatened with dire consequences if they even breathed what they were up to.
The kheer was obviously meant to celebrate Kanu’s release and inmates confirmed that the Maoists had their dessert before leaving with the comrades and hostages.
Kanu carried a reward of Rs 2.5 lakh before he was arrested in 2003. Said to be computer savvy, he was apparently betrayed by “insiders”.
Police sources, too, sheepishly confirmed today that the “informers” probably failed to tip them off about last night’s strike because the state government had failed to pay the “reward” promised to the informants who led them to Kanu in the first place. “With Rs 50,000 at his disposal, he can melt anywhere in India now,” rued a police officer.
The police headquarters, it appears, was alerted about Maoist movement on the Aurangabad-Arwal road, and by 2.30 pm a few companies of the CRPF had been sent after them.
Apprehending that the Maoists wanted to raid the armoury, as they had done last week in Jharkhand, the police lines were reinforced and the personnel there were given weapons and asked to take up their positions.
It suited the Maoists fine, it seems, because they merely encircled the police lines, exploded a few bombs and were content to exchange fire and confine the men in uniform inside. A stray bullet did fatally injure one of them while another Maoist was blown up by his own bomb.
Assistant public prosecutor R.L. Prasad was preparing to retire early because of high blood pressure when he was informed of a large number of armed people pouring into the area.
The distance between his house and the prison wall is barely hundred yards and Prasad wondered from where the “dacoits” would come.
He hurriedly bolted the doors and took shelter in an inner room before he heard the comrades announcing over the public address system that people should remain indoors, that they need not fear and that the Maoists had a score to settle with the police.
Just outside a window of his house, one of the leaders had taken up position and Prasad could hear him giving instructions over the walkie-talkie.
Military precision marked the operation, he recalled, as the leader ordered “unit number one” to retreat and asked other units to follow.
Earlier, Prasad had peeped outside and could make out people scaling the wall with the help of a ladder that bridged the gap ' barely 10 feet ' between a cowshed and the prison wall.
The Maoists had done their homework well and had come armed with ladders made of bamboo and rope. They also had the measurement right as the ladder just reached over 30 feet in height.
A mobile phone and a walkie-talkie were found by the police on one of the slain Maoists. Outgoing calls to other mobile phones, claimed police sources, would probably reveal nothing as the addresses would invariably be false. But they were pinning their hopes on the few landlines recorded in the mobile to provide them the breakthrough.
The popular mood in Jehanabad today was one of indifference. While almost the entire population of the two-street district town, approximately of one hundred thousand, streamed in and outside the prison on Monday morning, cynicism was evident.
“This is Jehanabad; we are used to all this,” boasted a shopkeeper, Sunil Kumar. Mithilesh Sharma, from Tejbigha village, was more explicit. “Prashashan ko fursat hai paisa banane aur lootne se” (does the administration have time for things other than robbing people)'” he asked.
He wondered why there was no encounter on the way. “How could 500 armed people converge here and leave without the police challenging them anywhere'”
Officials had a ready answer. There are 24,000 vacancies in Bihar police, they said, and almost half the policemen had been withdrawn for election duty, leaving only homeguards behind.
“What else can you expect'” sighed an official as he prepared for another long night in Jehanabad, christened not too long ago as the killing field of Bihar.