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Sunday, July 22, 2018

Between murder and arrest, an election victory that forced Jharkhand CM to quit

The rise and fall of Raja Peter, from activist working among poor to political leader to murder accused.

Written by Prashant Pandey | Ranchi | Updated: October 11, 2017 8:01:29 am
Gopal Krishna Patar, Raja Peter, Ramesh Singh Munda murder, Jharkhand MLA murder, Tamar bypoll, Jharkhand news, Indian Express Gopal Krishna Patar outside the court in Ranchi. (Express Photo)

Gopal Krishna Patar, better known as Raja Peter, has faced criminal cases, defeated Jharkhand heavyweight Shibu Soren in an election and tried to make a reputation as a social worker among the poor, too.

On Monday, the National Investigation Agency arrested Peter for his alleged role in the 2008 murder of Ramesh Singh Munda, then MLA of Tamar, the seat that would push Peter into political prominence — he won the bypoll following the murder.

Son of K M Patar, a supervisor in Tata Steel, Peter, now 55, too joined Tata Steel in 1979. He married Manisha aka Bela. By the time he defeated Soren in Tamar in 2009, he had earned a criminal record and was an accused then out on bail in a case under various IPC sections, including attempt to murder, The Indian Express had reported then. He apparently tried to reform himself through social work in Tamar (ST), which includes his village, Ulidih.

“I was into social work and he was working very hard and honestly in the field,” said Arti, his present wife, whom he married in 2006. “That is where we met and decided to marry. His hair was a bit curly then and is now straight and long. That makes him stand out. He reads a lot and is fluent in English.”

Arti has been allowed to meet him during the four-day remand period. “When I met him, I was already familiar with the name Raja Peter. I don’t know who gave him this name,” she said.

While Arti said Peter’s “heart beats for the poor”, a political leader who has known him from earlier said, “He was involved in quite a few criminal activities. But there were also many who would extort in his name in places such as Bokaro and Jamshedpur.”

Peter had contested from Tamar in 2005, too, as an independent, and lost. After two-time JD(U) MLA Munda was murdered on July 9, 2008, Jharkhand Mukti Morcha chief Shibu Soren, then CM, decided to contest that seat; he had taken oath without being an MLA.

The NIA has reportedly accused Peter of getting in touch with Naxals to kill Munda. Jharkhand police officials said a politician being linked to Naxals was nothing surprising in those days. “If you were in politics in an area such as Tamar, you were bound to have some sort of understanding or links with Naxals,” an official said.

In 2009, Peter, a nominee of the Jharkhand Party, also filed a separate set of papers as an independent candidate. He won by 9,062 votes, a defeat that forced Soren to resign as chief minister, leading to President’s rule.

“Peter’s niche votes, combined with alleged internal conspiracies by the Congress and other allies to weaken Soren, helped Peter create a sensation. Our own party had a base there and, to that, he added his own support base. Even today, he has a hold in the area,” said Ashok Bhagat, Jharkhand Party general secretary.

“I was with him all along the campaign. The party gave him around Rs 5 lakh and he pooled in a bit of his resources. He only had a second-hand Scorpio. When he won, he would urge Enos Ekka, head of the party, to get him a new vehicle.”

Ekka used to be a minister in Soren’s cabinet and was sacked just ahead of the elections when he refused to ask Peter not to contest against Soren. When Soren took oath a second time in 2009, he gave the go-ahead for registration of corruption cases against Ekka, Bhagat said. The latter remains in judicial custody, from where he won the assembly poll from Kolebira in 2014.

Peter, meanwhile, continued to change parties. In 2010, he won on a JD(U) ticket from Tamar, defeating Ramesh Munda’s son Vikas of the All Jharkhand Students’ Union (AJSU). Between 2010 and 2013, Peter was part of the Arjun Munda-led NDA coalition government, as excise minister. At one stage, Peter become the state JD(U) chief before Jaleshwar Mahato took over in 2014. He joined the BJP, but quit after the party denied him the Tamar ticket.

Jaleshwar Mahato said: “I did not know him very closely. The NIA findings are shocking.”

In 2014, Peter contested as an independent from Tamar and lost to Vikas Munda. “It was clear that my father’s murder was a political conspiracy,” Vikas Munda said. “But I had nothing concrete based on which I could take names. Today, if you look back and see who benefited the most, you can arrive at the conclusion. For me, the biggest ray of hope has been that the NIA, within three months of taking the case, has initiated action.”

Following the surrender of Maoist leader Kundan Pahan in May, Vikas Munda alleged that police had allowed him to surrender —he had earlier been chargesheeted in his father’s murder — while other killers were still at large. The state government subsequently referred the matter to the Centre, following which the NIA took up the case.

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