In a sign of the Jharkhand government’s changed attitude towards left wing extremism, security forces on Thursday night gunned down the seniormost PLFI leader killed to date.
Nicholas Pahan (26), an area commander, was killed in the Kunjila village of Khunti district. Police said the encounter took place at 11.30 on Thursday night; Pahan had reportedly arrived in the village to kill a man named Raka, whom he had accused of being a police informer. A 21-year old PLFI member named Surendrakant Choubey was injured in the encounter and was arrested.
Rarely are members of the People’s Liberation Front of India – the state’s second-largest LWE group with a reputation for killing civilians – killed in encounters with the police: the organisation has always avoided fighting security personnel and usually withdraw at the first sight of state forces. It also developed a political clout, drawing support from Kolebira MLA and former minsiter Anosh Ekka as well as Torpa MLA and former PLFI Zonal Commander Paulus Surin.
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However, the killing of Pahan indicates two developments – that the newly-installed government led by the BJP will have a no-holds-barred approach when it comes to the PLFI and that that the police is acting in anticipating of a change in strategy from the extortionist organisation. Senior police officers say that they have been anticipating attacks from the PLFI since the organisation used an IED for the first time against security forces on March 25 last year. “Later, we intercepted a phone call from Gope (Dinesh, the operational chief of PLFI) saying that they should now move against the police,” said a senior officer.
Police spokesperson and ADG (Operations) S.N. Pradhan said that Pahan was one of the top-five leaders within the organisation. He was presumably close to Jithen Gudiya, the second-in-command, who wields tremendous influence over the adivasi cadres of PLFI. “He had some 25 cases against him and was called the Shooter,” said Pradhan.
Victories against the PLFI have been incremental and began with former DGP Rajeev Kumar, former chief secretary Sajal Chakrabarty and serving district SP Anish Gupta.
Jetha Kachhap, a sub-zonal commander who was in charge of certain areas of rural Ranchi, was arrested last August. Following this, the police took out several successful operations against the organisation, targeting Gope’s assets and forcing the surrender of multiple cadres. Ahead of the elections to the state Assembly, MLA Ekka – long suspected to be the power being Gope – was arrested for allegedly ordering PLFI cadres to murder a political rival. He has been in jail since November, bleeding PLFI dry. Gope had also alienated MLA Surin ahead of the elections and supported another candidate, but Surin managed to win by the slimmest margin in the state, thereby dealing a severe blow to PLFI.