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With police help,banned Naxal group takes on Maoists in Jharkhand

TSPC has been quietly making inroads in Jharkhand,including sweeping local polls.

Written by Deepu Sebastian Edmond |
April 21, 2013 12:30:05 am

As coming-of-age rituals go,the Tritiya Sammelan Prastuti Committee (TSPC) couldn’t have planned it better. Acting on intelligence by its cadre,it moved in on a group of Maoists in Chatra district’s Lawalong Tola on the intervening night of March 27-28,killing 10. Among the dead was Lalesh Yadav,secretary of the Bihar-Jharkhand-North Chhattisgarh Special Area Committee,and his closest subordinates,thus leaving a vacuum at the heart of an organisation that has long challenged the police forces of Jharkhand and Bihar.

In the wake of that episode,the Jharkhand Police has denied allegations that the TSPC works with their tacit support. That’s contrary to the evidence on the ground,which indicates that not only does the TSPC,or TPC as it is commonly known,work alongside government forces but that the special branch of the Jharkhand Police was instrumental in its creation back in 2002.

This support has enabled the Jharkhand-government banned organisation to remain overground in Chatra’s Lawalong block,where it is headquartered. It has won panchayat elections unopposed,established itself as a parallel power centre,and driven the Maoists out.

***

In Lawalong,only one man’s writ counts. Officially,he is called Gopal Singh Bhokta. He is the up-pramukh (deputy president) of the Lawalong panchayat and owns the only institution in the block that teaches up to Class XII: the GSB Inter College,named after him. Villagers such as Baijnath Sahu,the vice-chairperson of the block,say he is much more to them: “Something like a Lok Sabha member or above.”

Only no one knows Bhokta as Bhokta. To both the state police and Lawalong,he is Brajesh Ganjhu or “Sardarji”,the supreme commander of the TSPC.

The non-CPI (Maoist) groups,including the TSPC,accounted for 56 per cent of Jharkhand’s left-wing extremist violence in 2012—the same year that the state topped the country in Maoist incidents (479) as well as deaths (162).

Brajesh is not the only elected representative with a TSPC background. Mamta Devi,the president of the zila parishad (district council) who was elected unopposed from Lawalong,is the wife of TSPC ‘zonal commander’ Laxman Ganjhu alias Kohram. Neelam Devi,the chairperson of the block,is the wife of sub-zonal commander Ravinder Ganjhu alias Aakraman. Aakraman is believed to have led the latter half of the March 27-28 encounter,during which senior Maoist leaders were killed.

All eight of the panchayat presidents,their deputies and panchayat samiti members in the Lawalong block were elected unopposed in the November-December 2010 panchayat elections. Same was the case with the lone block representative to the zila parishad and almost all the 80 ward members for the block’s 103 villages. It’s a nearly 100-strong community of the “nirvirodhi (unopposed)”.

The TSPC has long been accused of being close to the administration and the state police. At Lawalong,the TSPC is the administration.

***

The seeds of the TSPC’s birth were sown in early 2002 in an act of “tactical” kindness. The police were at the time hot on the heels of Brajesh,then a ‘platoon commander’ with the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC). “He was a terror. Along with Mukesh,another ‘platoon commander’,he seized the most police weapons,” says a source.

The police got a breakthrough when they came to know that Brajesh’s father was severely ill. “We took the father to hospital and made sure he got treatment,” says a policeman,aware of the developments.

According to him,that proved the turning point. “Brajesh phoned us,crying. He kept repeating that he did not know that policemen could be humane. We used the opportunity to get closer to him. Eventually,we convinced him to leave the organisation,” the police official says. One of the clinching arguments was that the people of the area were not benefitting from the levy being collected by the MCC,and that the money was all being transferred to West Bengal,where the outfit had its origins.

Brajesh left,provoking the MCC into a backlash. “The Maoists held a jan adalat and decided that Brajesh had to die. The villagers came to his help,and the MCC started attacking the people of his community—the Scheduled Caste Ganjhus.”

Around the end of 2002,Brajesh came to the police for help. “We told him we would help him if he does something in return,” says the policeman.

According to the official,“We also arranged for Brajesh to meet a senior officer. He already had guns; we gave him another Rs 80,000. Some officers arranged for rifles. Thus the TSPC was born,with 140 of his boys switching over from the MCC to Brajesh’s side.” Another version says the TSPC was formed in 2004-2005,but it is likely they became active in early 2005. They now have an estimated cadre strength of 450-750.

Jharkhand’s Director General of Police Rajiv Kumar denies any TSPC-police links,saying they treat them “like any other extremist group”. “They are a splinter group of the CPI (Maoist),which has been involved in internecine clashes. Without them,the Maoists just accounted for 44 per cent of Naxal violence last year,” he says.

Police sources believe the outfit derived its name from the third (“tritiya”) preparatory meeting for the merger of the MCC and People’s War,which was marred by differences between the Yadav and Ganjhu factions of the MCC.

Brajesh,described as being close to 40 years,is now the TSPC’s supreme leader in charge of military affairs,while Mukesh takes care of finances.

***

Starting from Chatra,the TSPC soon spread to neighbouring Palamu and Latehar districts almost as the frontline of government forces,evicting the Maoists or forcing them to defect.

In the words of a policeman,if the TSPC cadres encounter a Maoist team and are outnumbered,they call the police for help; the same works the other way round,with the TSPC helping CRPF-police parties in trouble. TSPC commanders also pick up Maoists and hand them over to the police.

“We constantly keep each other aware of our positions to avoid cross-firing,” says a policeman,among the many in touch with the TSPC’s top leadership.

“For us,the choice is quite straightforward. The Maoists are anti-national; they plan to overthrow the Indian state,” adds a policeman. “The TSPC then is the lesser evil.”

The TSPC also gains from this arrangement. Take the encounter in Lakramanda that killed the 10 senior Maoist leaders. The police claim to have recovered only an AK-56,two .303s and three .315 rifles. A police source admitted that the TPSC has very sophisticated weapons already,and may have been allowed to retain the weapons seized from the Maoists.

Along with killing Maoist leaders,the TSPC had also kidnapped 25 People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army cadre,though it released them later. Some of the 25 have been arrested by the forces of Bihar and Jharkhand since then on pending cases. A police source says they are likely to prepare FIRs without any names in the case.

A look at police arrests is also revealing. In 2012,the Chatra police made nine major CPI (Maoist) arrests and three TSPC ones. The Palamu police made six major CPI (Maoist) and three People’s Liberation Front of India arrests in 2012,but no TSPC ones. Latehar has seen six major CPI (Maoist) and two PLFI arrests in 2013 but no TSPC ones. In 2012,the Latehar police made 41 major CPI (Maoist) arrests,but picked up only two TSPC members and three members of a splinter group,the TSPC-1.

At the same time,policemen who deal with the TSPC have no doubt about the reasons for its efficacy. “At the end of the day,they are an extremist organisation—no different from the Maoists. If anything,they are more survivalist,and hence more efficient,as they are smaller,” says a policeman.

Most policemen who communicate with Brajesh have an uncomfortable handler-asset relationship with him. “Never let them think they are in control. Never let them decide the venue and timing of meetings. Always let them know that they need you more than you would ever need them,” says a source,showing a call from Brajesh early that morning.

***

Lawalong,30,000 of whose 36,000 acres are forest land,is the pond in which the TSPC swims. Block vice-chairperson Sahu would have you believe the vote by consensus for it had full support. “The people of the block sat down and decided that actually fighting elections would involve a lot of money. So the people held meetings and decided whom they would want for each available post,” he says.

If the scale of the TSPC’s unopposed victory makes this consensus suspect,there are some who tell you it was. “They threatened my father into withdrawing his nomination papers,” says 24-year-old Nirbhay Singh. There is also talk of people being roughed up.

Lamta panchayat’s president Amit Kumar (37) admits they had to talk some people out of their nominations. “There was someone against me too. People made him understand the importance of maintaining a good atmosphere,” he claims.

Amit insists the TSPC has done a lot for development of the area. “We never voted in elections… At some point,some of our youngsters understood that the Maoists were fooling them,” he says.

Though the going rate is 3 to 5 per cent per project,Amit insists the TSPC does not collect any levy from his panchayat. “They mean well for us. The TSPC is violent because the Maoists are. When the Maoists are gone,the TSPC will come out and work for the development of this place,” he says.

If and when the TPSC does decide to come into the mainstream officially,president of the district council Mamta Devi (24) will be central to the scheme of things. Mamta is the wife of Laxman Ganjhu,better known as TSPC zonal commander ‘Kohram’. She has been in politics long enough to identify her husband as a “contractor”. Mamta,who stays in a large house surrounded by a seven-foot concrete boundary wall under construction,joined former state chief minister Babulal Marandi’s Jharkhand Vikas Morcha in September 2012 and harbours hopes of getting a ticket for the Assembly elections.

Claiming that she has nothing to do with the TSPC,she says: “The common people of this block elected me,and I remain responsible only to them.”

***

What could bring the TSPC down is that it may be getting too big for its own good. India’s Marxist-Leninist organisations have an amoebic way of surviving—they split as they go forward. The TSPC,born of one such division,already has a TSPC-1 faction.

The police also realise that the relationship with the TSPC can only be temporary,and that their control is not absolute. The special branch has already withdrawn its support to the arrangement. “There is no directive from the police headquarters on how to deal with the TSPC. It all depends on the superintendent of police of the day,” confesses a policeman.

Among those not keen on remaining cosy with the TSPC reportedly is K Vijay Kumar,one of the advisors to the state Governor under the ongoing President’s Rule,who retired as director general of the CRPF.

One course forward eventually may be the TSPC fighting elections,after bargaining for a surrender. Given how they have successfully managed the panchayat seats,that route has been tested by them.

Brajesh’s brother Ganesh Ganjhu incidentally contested the 2009 Assembly elections on a Jharkhand Mukti Morcha ticket,coming second. He has since moved to the BJP.

‘There is no future. Either the Maoists will die,or I’

In his first media interaction ever,TSPC ‘supreme commander’ Gopal Singh Bhokta alias Brajesh Ganjhu denies his outfit was formed by Ganjhus (an SC community) against the Yadav-dominated CPI (Maoists). He claims their differences were ideological,that Maoists forced them to take up arms. Excerpts from an interview with Ashutosh Bhardwaj somewhere on the Jharkhand-Bihar border:

On charges of links with the police:

“Not a single policeman was present there (at the March 27-28 encounter)… In fact,the first casualty was ours. If anyone has a doubt,check the satellite cameras—I am sure people have it at every place these days.”

On the reason for parting of ways with Maoists:

“People say Ganjhus defected on caste grounds against Yadavs. Nonsense! Many front soldiers of the CPI (Maoist) are Ganjhus and the TSPC has many leaders of other castes. It was purely an ideological divide as the Maoists had deviated from their path and come to indulge in plain violence without mass movement… Yes,the system is bad. So let’s change it,but why violence?”

On differences with Maoists:

“Maoists apne hi bhai hain,bhatak gaye hain (The Maoists are our own brothers,they have just lost the way). If a brother kills a brother,does he become an enemy? He still remains a brother.”

On Maoists’ offer of a ‘ceasefire’:

“What will happen with a ceasefire? They will continue to kill innocent people and spread terror. Ceasefire will be meaningful only when they completely denounce violence.”

On giving up the gun:

“We do not want violence,but the moment we lay down arms,they (Maoists) will kill us. If they get satisfied by killing me,I am ready to sacrifice myself. But they will not,so I am forced to fight,even teach my son to fight… Who with a family would like to indulge in violence?”

On the way forward:

“The CPI (Maoist) is a huge organisation,having many highly qualified and educated members. We are nothing before them. Still they do not realise the futility of violence. We now hear they are sending thousands of Maoists from Nepal and Chhattisgarh to eliminate us. What will they get? Is it revolution? Do you think the TSPC will be intimidated?… Future? There is none. Sab mare jayenge (Everyone will die). Ya to Maobadi mara jayega,ya main (Either the Maoists will die,or I). Future will be secure only when there is no killing,everyone has food and work.”

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