A Jharkhand police constable arrested for murder last week is a surrendered Maoist who,it is now suspected,retained his connections with a splinter group that he had allegedly helped found.
Prashant,also known as Jagannath Sao,was arrested on Thursday by Hazaribagh police for the August 19 murder of Tapeshwar Prasad,mukhiya of Shahpur village within the Katkamsandi police stations limits. The exact motive is not clear but police sources say the mukhiya may have been close to a rival group. Prashant is one of two arrested out of nine accused.
Prashant,35,is a former Maoist Communist Centre/CPI(Maoist) member who became a police informant after leaving the organisation. Around 2005,the Jharkhand Prastuti Committee was formed with Prashant apparently one of the founding partners.
The JPC brought together former Maoists against the CPI(Maoist),an initiative initially backed by a section of the state police,but the JPC eventually went rogue with its members taking to extortion.
Its first chief,Kaljit Ganjhu,was killed by Maoists last August. Three men took over as leaders after Kaljits death Prashant,Guddu Ganjhu and Badan Munda, says a civilian who claims to have intimate knowledge of how the organisation operates,and whose claims were independently endorsed by police officers or villagers The Indian Express spoke to. Prashant and Guddu never wear the black uniform of the organisation and are more involved in the collection of levy,while Badan is the fighter, the source says.
According to data made available by the state police,the JPC ranks fifth among left-wing extremist groups in terms of incidents between July 2012 and July 2013,compared to CPI(Maoist)s 98. Based primarily in Hazaribagh,the JPC has a presence in Chatra,Palamu and Latehar.
In 2010,Prashant was drafted into the Koderma district police as a driver-constable. He was serving at the Tilaiya police station at the time of his arrest. I noticed in the last six-odd months that despite being in the service,Prashant has retained connections with the JPC, says Hazaribagh SP Manoj Kaushik.
Police suspect Prashant was demanding payments from mukhiya Prasad. Call detail records indicate the two had talked minutes before Prasad was abducted by armed men.
Prashant would call every other month or so, says Amrika Devi,the mukhiyas wife. From the way my husband was talking that day,it looked like it was about money. Within two minutes of his ending that call,three armed men barged into our house.
The intruders took the mukhiya to a hillock two kilometres away. By the time we went outside,we heard two gunshots in the distance. My fathers body was found with his face smashed in with stones, says Sudhir Prasad,the mukhiyas eldest son,who alleges he called Prashant at least twice that night but the constable professed ignorance about the abduction. Prashant has since been suspended by Koderma SP Hemant Toppo.
Prasad is believed to have been close to the Tritiya Sammelan Prastuti Committee,a group that rivals the JPC. Prasad was an accused in the murder of Mahesh Yadav,a former Maoist,by the TSPC.
Police estimate the JPC has a cadre strength of 45. On Republic and Independence days,it hoists the national flag inverted,while the CPI(Maoist) unfurls black flags. The JPCs primary source of income in Hazaribagh is the levy it collects from stone crushers between Ichak and Barhi. There is an armed squad of 20-25 members for the district. It is mostly present near the Biru-Gangadag village,on the border with Chatra, says the source.
Prashant is said to have accumulated huge assets; stories that couldnt be verified include one about a fleet of 18-wheel trucks and a bungalow in Hazaribagh town. We are not likely to look into his assets, says SP Kaushik. The focus is on the criminal case.