IN the second week of September, the Arjun Munda-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government in Jharkhand launched a special security initiative called Operation Black Thunder (OBT) to counter the naxalite activities in the State. The State police as well as the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), which too was involved in the operations, had high expectations about the OBT. But before those hopes could materialise, the black-shirted People's Guerilla Army (PGA) of the Communist Party of India (Maoist) struck at several targets in the State.
On September 12, PGA activists attacked Bheluaghati village of Giridih district and killed 17 residents who had apparently made bold to join the Shanti Sena (Peace Force), a civilian outfit raised to counter naxalite activities. The same day a police team, which had gone to investigate the Bheluaghati killings, was attacked near Sonadeni village. The PGA exploded bombs as the vehicles of the investigating team passed. The driver of one of the vehicles was killed and two others were injured.
On September 24, State Rural Development Minister Enos Ekka escaped a bid on his life when the PGA triggered a landmine, near Kolibira Ghati. His escort vehicle was blown up. In the third week of September, a 10-member team of the CPI (Maoist) led by Ramashankar, considered to be a member of the party think tank, visited an associate who was admitted to a prestigious hospital in Ranchi.
These occurrences, which took place within the span of a fortnight and that too during the very period the government sought to launch a security offensive, highlight the strike power of the naxalites. By any yardstick, Jharkhand should rate high among the States that are under naxalite influence. There have been 12 major incidents of PGA violence this year in which 50 personnel of various security forces were killed and 57 weapons looted.
Director-General of Police (DGP) Vishnu Dayal Ram told Frontline that the naxalite attacks had come down this year compared to pervious years. In 2001, there were 355 naxalite-related incidents resulting in the death of 200 people, including 53 policemen; 2002 witnessed 353 incidents and the death of 157 people; in 2003 there were 342 incidents and 117 casualties; and 2004 saw 379 incidents and 169 deaths.
It is not merely the power to strike at will that the CPI (Maoist) possesses. The outfit carries out operations in almost all 22 districts of the State. In 15 districts, large areas have been converted into guerilla zones where the PGA and the specially raised police, judiciary and administration of the CPI (Maoist) run a parallel administration.
Developmental activities are part of the tasks of the administrative wing while the police wing maintains law and order. The judicial wing conducts Jan Adalats (people's courts) and settles disputes and cases. The PGA is entrusted with the twin tasks of protecting guerilla zones and attacking the instruments of the state. Levy is collected from small and big institutions in the region under the control of naxalites. This money is used to run the administration and for the upkeep of the police wing and the PGA.
According to informal estimates, nearly 1,200 of the 4,564 panchayats in the State are under the influence of naxalites. The CPI (Maoist) virtually dictates the election process in over 30 per cent of the Assembly constituencies, particularly in Palamu, Giridih, Chatra, Koderma, Gumla, Lohardaga and Garhwa districts. The fate of some constituencies even in Ranchi is decided by them. There is no question of any candidate winning in Bhawanathpur, Bishrampur, Chatra, Latehar, Simraga, Panki and Chattarpur without the tacit approval of the naxalites. According to the assessment of the Home Departments of the Centre and the State, naxalites have carved out new areas of influence in the districts of East Singhbhum, West Singhbhum and Saraikela-Kharaswan (in which falls Arjun Munda's constituency).
According to middle-level activists of the organisation, it is not political issues that dictate their support to candidates but other considerations such as money or a service. "The monetary consideration," said a long-standing observer of the movement in the State, "is a kind of fees for getting the permission to function and campaign in their area of control."
The State government is planning some new initiatives in the context of the new Central moves for a unified offensive against naxalites. These include the raising of five more battalions of the Indian Reserve Force (IRF) in the State. The State already has two battalions of the IRF, including a women's wing. Proposals have also been approved for the recruitment of about 5,000 youth from naxalite-prone districts for the new battalions. As part of the new initiative, the security forces would acquire new electronic surveillance systems.
In keeping with the two-pronged strategy, which includes taking up socio-economic development projects along with launching the security offensive, the forces are also organising medical camps, distributing blankets and utensils in some places, and conducting recreational activities to boost the morale of village residents. It remains to be seen how far these initiatives will help, especially in the context of widespread underdevelopment and corruption in the State giving a fillip to extremist activities.