Aided by local contractors, a bond is flourishing between Maoists of Kanker district, Bastar, and politicians and top mining firms. An arrested contractor whom The Indian Express spoke to, Dharmendra Chopra, has named some key players in politics and mining, and claimed he helped the latter forge deals with Maoists.
Chopra, who claims a friendship with Maoists, has noted that no one working in interior Bastar can do without their help, and that they oblige companies and contractors in lieu of monetary and logistical support.
“I have had close links with political leaders Sohan Potai, Vikram Usendi and Mohan Mandavi. And they know I have contacts with senior Maoists,” Chopra told The Indian Express.
Asked what help he provided them and why they continued the friendship without informing the police, he said: “I have funded their election campaigns, managed things.You can imagine.”
All three are elected leaders from Kanker district. Potai is a BJP MP, Usendi a BJP MLA, and Mandavi a Congress MLA. Mandavi was a minister in the Ajit Jogi government, while Usendi, forest minister in Raman Singh’s second tenure, is expected to be given a berth in an upcoming cabinet expansion. All three leaders concede they know Chopra but claim they had no knowledge about his Maoist links.
Chopra was arrested last week near the Raipur airport when he was trying to escape in Potai’s vehicle. “I know Chopra for several years, but I had no knowledge about his activities,” Potai said. “He was in my vehicle that evening but for some other reason. As soon as my driver got to know that he was running from police, he asked him to get down.”
“I know him but have no idea about his activities,” Mandavi said. And Usendi echoed: “I know him but have no idea about his personal life. I have faced attacks (from Maoists). Had I known them, I wouldn’t have been attacked.”
The contractor has amassed property that includes a palatial bungalow in Raipur. He was the eighth person from Kanker arrested in three days, as Chhattisgarh’s top police officers in a press conference claimed to have busted a major urban network and mentioned the crisscrossing paths of politicians, companies and Maoists.
Chopra described his relationship with Maoists. “I first met them in the late 1990s,” he said. “I know Prabhakar and Gopanna (both senior Maoists) well. They sought my help and I bought and carried mobiles, tablets and medicines for them, arranged vehicles. Sometimes they paid me.”
Chopra named two mining companies, Jayaswal Neco and Godawari Power and Ispat Ltd, which he claims to have helped negotiate deals with Maoists. Both have leases in Kanker, where Maoists have declared mining banned. Chopra says Neco had made him their contractor to facilitate a deal and claims he introduced its officials to Maoists, and that Godawari’s contractor Manik Chand Jain provided him a 30 per cent share of profits for his services.
“I introduced these companies to Maoists to enable their work in the region,” Chopra said. “No one can work in interior Bastar without their help.”
Godawari Power, which has started mining work, refused to comment on Chopra’s claims. Last week, ADG (Intel) Mukesh Gupta said a contractor of Godawari paid Rs 1.5 crore to Neeraj Chopra, arrested nephew of Dharmendra, who allegedly gave it to Maoists for buying arms.
Jayaswal Neco conceded having links with Chopra but, like the politicians, denied any knowledge of his activities other than as a contractor.
“We do not deny that the company executives were in touch with Dharmendra Chopra to initiate Corporate Social Responsibility in Kanker and to open two mines in the area. But they were working with Chopra on the basis of his experience… with other companies (as) he had claimed,” Susanta Kumar Moitra, president (corporate affairs) with Jayaswal Neco, wrote in a statement to The Indian Express.
“Chopra was appointed as our contractor in Laindongri iron ore mines… In Metabodli, Chopra had approached (us) for starting of the mine, as we could not open the mine after acquiring it in 2002, due to local resistance. When Chopra approached us we decided to appoint him contractor based on his reputation as he worked with other (reputable) companies before as he claimed,” Moitra wrote.
“The organisation has no knowledge about any other activities of Chopra, and the sole intention of the company was to operate the mine to feed the steel plant at Raipur. During the course of discussion it was suggested by the company that let a meeting be organised by Chopra with villagers to develop the confidence for starting of the mining operation… Since none of the committed tasks got executed by Chopra the company could not execute the final contract, neither did it pay any money to him or any other concern.
However during the course of efforts being made for starting the mining operation the company officials at Bhanupratpur had met many villagers at different occasions to ensure starting of the mining operation. We never knew the villagers we met had any other activities elsewhere,” Moitra added.