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Splinter groups battle Maoists, troops cash in

An enemy’s enemy, as the saying goes, is a friend. The principle seems to hold in the Bihar-Jharkhand border region where the CPI (Maoist) and government forces are locked in battle.

The security forces are “soft” on armed outfits engaged in a tussle for territory with the Maoists. As a reciprocal gesture, these groups do not kill policemen.

Of the dozen or so anti-Maoist groups, the Tritiya Prastuti Committee (TPC) and the People’s Liberation Front of India (PLFI) are known for their firepower and cadre strength.

The TPC had broken away from the Maoist Communist Centre before the latter merged with the CPI(ML) Peoples’ War to form the CPI (Maoist) in 2004. Originally led by one “Bharatji”, a front-ranking MCC leader in Jharkhand, the group is now said to be headed by Brajesh Kunju and is active in Gaya and Aurangabad in Bihar, and Palamau, Latehar and some other districts in Jharkhand.

The PLFI, formed in 2007, is said to be another Maoist splinter group. Led by Dinesh Gope, it has been wreaking havoc in Jharkhand’s Khunti, Ranchi, Gumla and Simdega.

The governments in Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh have banned these outfits.

Before their merger, the MCC and the People’s War and some other Maoist factions had fought over area domination and what they called “collection of levy or tax” from government contractors and businessmen.

Class struggle may have been their shared credo, but mutual mistrust over caste domination — mainly by Yadavs over Dalits and tribals — often played a crucial role in these internecine feuds.

Outfits such as the TPC, PLFI, Jharkhand Jana Mukti Parishad (JJMP) and the Jharkhand Liberation Tigers now accuse the Maoists of disruptive politics and have vowed to finish them off.

“Government forces have propped up a number of counter-revolutionary groups, including the TPC, PLFI and the JJMP, against us in Jharkhand to divide the people and confuse them,” CPI (Maoist) spokesman Prasant alias Manas said.

The rebel spokesperson admitted that one reason for the rivalry between his outfit and these groups was clashes over extortion rights. “It’s true that we too collect levies,” he said. “But what have the TPC and the others done in the people’s interest?”

Enemy’s enemy

Police officers denied harbouring the TPC or any other “purely criminal” group but admitted that security forces had used them against the Maoists.

“There is no question of treating other groups preferentially. We have arrested TPC and PLFI cadres and seized arms from them in Latehar. But what’s wrong in getting information and support from one group against another?” said IG (law and order), Jharkhand, S.N. Pradhan. “And, unlike the Maoists, they don’t target security forces.”

Pradhan said that none of the 23 jawans who died in encounters last year till October had been killed by non-Maoist groups. Of the 33 extremists killed during this period in Jharkhand, 22 were reportedly eliminated by these rival groups. Six died in encounters with the government forces, while five were lynched by the “public”. In 2011, these groups reportedly killed 40 Maoists.

But they also killed 80 of the 96 civilians who lost their lives in extremist violence till October last year, said N.H. Khan, the DIG, Magadh range, Bihar police.

Maoist involvement in violent incidents came down from 65-70 per cent in 2008-09 to 44 per cent in 2012, he said. In contrast, the PLFI’s “share” has gone up to 30 per cent from 14 per cent. “Where the Maoists are retreating, their rival groups are moving in to occupy the space. All of them are purely criminal groups fighting over extortion and killing people if their demands are not met,” Pradhan said.

Cycle of violence

The cycle of competitive violence has sucked into it the villagers, who have to submit to the demands of both the Maoists and their rivals.

“We have to give food to armed squads of Maoists or the TPC whenever they visit our area,” said Lalindar Yadav, a resident of Palamau, whose brother Madan died in police custody in Aurangabad.

“Now that our family has filed a case against four police officers for my brother’s death, the TPC has started threatening us to withdraw the case.”

He said TPC leader Sikandar Yadav was putting pressure on the family. Sikandar’s name also figures in other complaints of TPC highhandedness in the border villages. Most of the complainants are either close to the CPI (Maoist) or are relatives of rebel cadres.

In Palamau’s Pichulia village, a concrete structure that was once a house lies crushed. Owner Binod Yadav said an armed TPC squad came with payloaders to demolish his home to teach his fugitive brother Promode, a Maoist, a lesson.

“The TPC men took four hours to bring down the structure. The police refused to help despite frantic calls. They asked me why I had not informed them about Maoist visits earlier,” Binod said, recounting the incident on June 28 last year.

The Maoists are not always the victims. The CPI (Maoist) spokesman admitted the outfit had demolished the homes of TPC leaders Brajesh Kunju and Sikandar. He justified the demolitions as the “expression of people’s wrath against their misdeeds”.

In Baburamdi village, Gaya, suspected Maoists killed Harihar Yadav, a physically challenged person. Harihar’s widow said her husband was killed as their son was with the TPC.