As a Maoist, he killed thieves and severed their heads, freed his people and returned their land, and organised inter-caste marriages. Since he went into politics, he has never been the same again.
“Yes, he was more effective when part of the organisation [CPI (Maoist)]. Now, he is bound by all these rules; he cannot do as he wishes,” chuckles Parameshwar Baitha outside a paan shop at the Pandu market in Jharkhand’s Palamu district.
Parameshwar is the younger brother of Palamu’s outgoing MP Kameshwar Baitha, 59. Kameshwar, who won in 2009 on a JMM ticket, is instantly recognised as the sitting MP with the most criminal cases to his name. In his latest affidavit, filed as a Trinamool Congress candidate, Kameshwar has declared 51 cases, after 46 in 2009.
Even those closest to him agree the former CPI (Maoist) central committee member faces an uphill battle. “When we go campaigning, people ask what he has done in these years. I tell them he was in jail until 2011. Since then, he has been fighting his cases,” says Parameshwar.
Kameshwar was ditched by the JMM, which passed on the reserved seat to the RJD. He tried going to the BJP, which favoured former DGP V D Ram, during whose tenure Kameshwar was in jail. The Trinamool is his third party — he had unsuccessfully contested a 2007 Lok Sabha bypoll on a BSP ticket.
“It does not matter which party he contests from. People see only Kameshwar Baitha,” says Parameshwar.
At Dhachabar village in Pandu block, Ashok Baitha squats and rubs his palm on the dirt road. “Is this the road that should lead to an MP’s house?” he says. Ashok is a cousin of Kameshwar and still lives in the ancestral village. The MP does not; he owns multiple houses but is mostly in his residence in Bishrampur.
In 2009, villagers had fanned out across the constituency to campaign for their most famous son, who was in jail. Kameshwar’s wife Devmani Devi later became a leader on his behalf along with their three sons. By the time Kameshwar, arrested from Bihar in 2005, was released on bail on May 8, 2011, two years of his tenure had passed. On May 11, his former comrades bombed his house in Dhachabar.
This time, the enthusiasm is missing in the village. “No one else could give us Dalits what he gave us as a rebel. The zamindars never let us sit on chairs; in fact, we always had to stand,” says Devlal Baitha, husband of panchayat mukhiya Anju Devi. Ashok completes what Devlal leaves unsaid: “He silenced the zamindars. He even encouraged inter-caste couples to get married. But when he became a leader, he helped himself.”
Ashok adds, “Once, he caught four thieves in Basdiha. He ordered that they be killed, then cut off their heads. When the police found the thieves, their heads were neatly kept together while the rest of their bodies were piled beside.”
This is independently narrated by a senior police officer, who also adds an anecdote villagers claim not to know about. “There was an upper-caste man who tried to molest one of Kameshwar’s sisters. The man’s goons assaulted Kameshwar’s mother. When Kameshwar heard of this, he extracted his revenge,” says the officer, without clarifying what exactly the revenge was.
The road from Dhachabar to Pamdu town was built on Kameshwar’s orders — but during his 26 years as a rebel. “We were losing in litigation with the zamindar over six acres of our land. Kameshwar may have been active in Bihar; but his influence and the organisation’s goodwill meant the zamindar was forced to return it,” says Bindu Ram, who is not rooting for Kameshwar this time.
In the neighbourhood of Dhachabar where Baitha’s kin live, they believe he deserves one more chance. “He came overground after so many years in the jungle. Two of these five years, he was in jail,” says “mukhiyapati” Devlal.
“Wait and see. The Trinamool will form the government and Baithaji will become a minister. He is the messiah of the poor,” says a youngster. It turns out he is a relative of the MP as well as a police constable who is his bodyguard.