CPI(Maoist) cadres in Jharkhand allegedly murdered 16 members of the breakaway faction Tritiya Sammelan Prastuti Committee (TSPC) in cold blood on Friday night — the highest number of casualties involving a splinter group in the state.
The spokesperson for the Bihar-Jharkhand-North Chhattisgarh special area committee of the CPI(Maoist) said that the attack was in retaliation to the murder of 10 of their members in March 2013, allegedly by TSPC cadres in Chatra’s Lakramanda hamlet. At least six of the 10 had been shot at point-blank range after they surrendered.
Friday’s attack took place in Palamu district’s Vishrampur block. “We have killed zonal commander Anandji and area commander Vijay Paswan,” spokesperson Manasji said over phone. Manasji was also the name used by Lalesh Yadav, the group’s spokesperson who was killed in Lakramanda.
The Maoists’ claim that they had killed senior TSPC leaders in Kauriya village’s Chhoti Kauriya hamlet could not be independently verified by this newspaper as TSPC cadre arrived at the village by 6 am on Saturday and took away the bodies in tractors by 9 am. They did not allow journalists to click any photographs. The first police party arrived only by 11.30 am.
The incident seems to bring out the first fissures in the relationship between the security forces and the TSPC.
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The breakdown in communication — police were in the dark about the identities of the deceased — comes after the chief minister indicated he was not happy with the TSPC’s closeness to the police. The CM had told the state Assembly on Monday that former DGP V D Ram had facilitated the formation of splinter groups TSPC, PLFI and JLT in 2004, effectively confirming the longstanding allegation that the police had formed the TSPC and continue to enjoy good relations with it.
Ram has since joined the BJP and represents Palamu in the Lok Sabha. In the previous Lok Sabha, Palamu was represented by Kameshwar Baitha, a former regional committee member of the CPI(Maoist), who hails from a village in Pandu, a block adjacent to Vishrampur.
Residents of Chhoti Kauriya, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that 22 uniformed cadre of the TSPC came to the village around 7.30 pm on Friday. They went to the house of one Ramachandra Sao, who was detained by the police Saturday evening. “They walked in and asked us to go to a different house. This was the second time they had come to our house; the other time was two years ago — one of them pressed a gun to my abdomen when I showed reluctance,” said an individual who was in the house, the largest in the hamlet.
The Maoists arrived around 11.30 pm and started going house to house. “Four of them came in front of my house, fired a round and asked me to get out. They asked me if I was hiding any TSPC men. I asked them to look for themselves,” said a villager. Witnesses said that about 150-200 Maoists had surrounded the village. They said that this was for the first time in about seven years that Maoists had entered their village.
Villagers said there were two children in the TSPC squad who looked about 12-13 years old. They were spared by the Maoists. “They were not in uniform but carried a gun each. The Maoists slapped them and said they were too young to be doing this. They then asked them to run,” said a villager.
Rajesh, the TSPC area commander under whom the region falls, was apparently part of the group but was not killed because he halted at a different house. All the dead were found in their underwear, indicating that they were resting. Eight bodies were found in the courtyard, while four were found inside. Another four were found in four different directions about 50 metres away from the hamlet, indicating that they were shot while trying to escape. Some of the bodies in the courtyard had their hands tied in front of them. There were no signs of the TSPC cadre putting up any resistance.
A Maoist source said that the local guerilla squads of two sub-zonal commanders — Niteshji alias Suraj Yadav and Manohar of the North Koel Sankh Zone — had led the attack. The source also claimed that the Maoists have taken five TSPC men hostage. After the Chatra encounter, the TSPC had taken 25 Maoists hostage but released them later on the guarantee that they would leave the Maoist organisation.
A predominantly Ganjhu (a Dalit caste) section of the Maoists came out of the CPI(Maoists) between 2002 and 2004, ostensibly to protest the Yadav domination in the group. This section went on to form the TSPC.