Dreaded Maoist commander Kundan Pahan, wanted in over 125 cases, including murders of a DSP, an inspector and an MLA, surrendered before the Jharkhand Police here on Sunday. Pahan, who is the top-most Maoist to have ever surrendered in Jharkhand, said he owned up to all the criminal acts he has been named in. The CPI (Maoist) Jharkhand ‘regional committee secretary’, Pahan, who is in his mid-30s, carried a reward of Rs 15 lakh on his head. He joined the Maoists in 1999, at the age of 16, and was among the few tribal guerrillas to have headed a state unit.
With their substantial strength in Palamu-Latehar zone already depleted by the splinter group of Triteeya Prastuti Committee, the Maoists are not left with much space to recover in Jharkhand after Pahan’s surrender. Police officials said the surrender followed long negotiations under a government surrender policy called Nai Disha, and sources indicated Pahan had been helping them for a while. While the policy has been around for at least 10 years, the BJP government has been actively pursuing it.
Pahan had been involved in almost all major Maoist assaults to the east of Ranchi, often breaching the ideological lines imposed by the CPI (Maoist). He also led among the few Maoist teams to have looted a bank vehicle. However, in recent years, he had become inactive within the outfit. He has told police that Maoist commanders from the Santhali community don’t want non-Santhal leaders to rise, and this had caused him to distance himself from them. In January this year, Pahan’s brother Dimba had surrendered, while another brother, Shyam, had been arrested in February.
Accompanied by some of his relatives, Pahan surrendered in the presence of ADG (Operations) R K Mullik and other senior police officials. As mediapersons asked him questions, he took the microphone to say, “Bees saal se janta ki bhalai ke naam par bina matlab ka vyarth hua hai. Bahut badi galti hui hai. Humko sudharne ka mauka denge to sarkar ka jo bhi yojana hai, uske liye hum kaam karenge (Twenty years have been wasted in the name of doing good for the people. It was all a big mistake. If given a chance to reform myself, I will work for any scheme that the government wants me to).”
In perhaps a first, police have shot a video in which Pahan appeals to Maoist cadres to shun violence and join hands with the government for development of the state. Pahan says in the video that while the children of top Maoists study in good schools in big cities, squad members are asked to furnish details of everything, including soap, oil and rice. “They only use the cadres for levy, killing etc, so that they come under police radar and are not able to leave the organisation.”
Pointed out that family members of the inspector and MLA he was accused of killing wanted him hanged rather than given an opportunity to surrender, Pahan said, “I apologise to all those affected (by my actions). Koi bhi ghatna, chahe direct ho ya indirect, main senior tha to main jimmewari leta hoon (All the incidents, whether I was directly involved or indirectly, since I was the senior, I take responsibility).” He pointed out that police never came close to catching him and did not have even a photograph of him.
Vikas Kumar Munda, the son of MLA Ramesh Singh Munda who was gunned down by Pahan and his squad in 2008, held a protest against the surrender on Sunday. “We have to be sure as to who should be welcomed for surrender. Is welcoming such people, who have themselves killed or directed the killing, correct? Should we not be talking about the surrender of those who have actually been misled or forced by these very people into Naxalism?” said Vikas Kumar, an MLA from Tamar. His party, All Jharkhand Students’ Union, is an ally of the BJP government. The family of Inspector Francis Induwar, who was abducted and beheaded by Pahan on October 6, 2009, has also objected to the surrender.
ADG Mullik said he understood their feelings. “But surrender is also part of the criminal jurisprudence. We are not letting him off the legal process.” Police are hoping that other Maoist cadres and top leaders will surrender if the perception gains ground that the government will not go back on the promises made in the Nai Disha policy. As part of the policy, the reward money declared for a particular Maoist is handed over to him or her at the time of surrender (Pahan was handed a cheque for Rs 15 lakh on Sunday), they are kept in open jails and allowed contact with their families, and police request courts to expedite their cases.
Mullik said all those who have taken up guns against the State should use this chance to return to the mainstream or face police action. “I can’t say what their condition will be in 2018. But it is our appeal that they should avail of the opportunity to surrender. This opportunity may not be available again,” he said. With inputs from Ashutosh Bhardwaj