The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Prez rule: Centre undecided

March 5: The clamour for President’s rule in the state grew today with two Congress MPs, Furqan Ansari and Chandrashekhar Dubey, joining Babulal Marandi in demanding dismissal of the Koda government following the assassination, allegedly by Maoists, of Jamshedpur MP Sunil Mahto.

Meanwhile, a dawn-to-dusk bandh paralysed train and rail movement in Jharkhand today while a stunned state government grappled with the enormity of the daring attack that left four dead in a football field, 40 km from Jamshedpur on Sunday evening. Eyewitness accounts held that the assailants stood on the body of the slain MP and raised slogans in favour of the CPI(Maoist).

As many as 14 bullets had been shot at him from close range as he watched a football match at Baguria, 40 km from Jamshedpur. Union home secretary V.K. Duggal said in New Delhi that the assassination was in retaliation to the state government cracking down on the banned outfit.

Others linked the murder to the MP’s support extended to the Nagarik Suraksha Samiti (NSS), a vigilante group armed by the state to take on Naxalites in the area.

Union minister of state for home Shriprakash Jaiswal, who paid a flying visit to the state to take stock of the situation, said at Jamshedpur a final decision on a “CBI inquiry”, as requested by the state government, would be taken in a day or two. But he scoffed at speculations on imposition of President’s rule in the state, as demanded during the day by two Congress MPs.

Subodh Kant Sahay, Union minister of state for food processing, who accompanied Jaiswal, kept the suspense alive by accusing the government of lacking “administrative zeal”.

While the Congress supports the Koda government, he added, the party could also catch the state government by the scruff of its neck. “We will not remain mute spectators to what is happening in Jharkhand. Both SPs and MPs are getting killed. We will not allow this to continue here,” fumed Sahay.

The motive of the assassination appeared more complex as the JMM smelt a “political conspiracy” behind the killing. Even other political parties hinted at the possibility of infighting within the JMM leading to the killing.

A section within the JMM claimed the MP had incurred the wrath of the Maoists by refusing to pay levy for the large number of petty contracts that he and his men had cornered in the area.

The assassination raised a number of questions. The MP, it is claimed, did not inform the police of his movement. Police top brass also wondered, on condition of anonymity, why he took only four of the 12 armed guards at his disposal.

Not that it would have made much difference, judging by the way the commandos were overpowered and killed. All the four or five commandos with the MP — confusion prevailed about the figure till late in the evening — apparently stood behind the MP and were intent in watching the football match. The Maoists, who had mingled with the spectators, crept up from behind and overpowered them without resistance.

According to one eyewitness report, the two commandos who got killed had actually tried to escape after losing their weapons. Police acknowledged deficiencies in training while admitting that the commandos’ inability to fire even a single retaliatory shot had shocked them.

Even more intriguing is the claim of the organisers that the football final had been reduced to a 40-minute affair because the MP arrived “very late” and the light was fading. There were 4,000-5,000 spectators, according to eyewitnesses, and the final was originally scheduled to last the usual 90 minutes. But the MP arrived at 5.30 pm and with dusk creeping in fast, there was no way the match could have been completed.

Sonaram Soren, the organiser who had persuaded the MP to attend the final, was not at the spot when the Maoists killed the latter. Soren claimed he had gone inside the club building, next to the football field, “looking for a camera”. He heard the shots, emerged from the “club-house” and learnt that the MP had been shot. He was so scared that he fled the spot, Soren said.

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