Jharkhand tensions

Published : Jan 20, 2001 00:00 IST

The Babulal Marandi government in Jharkhand faces an uphill task in containing extremist elements and communal violence in the newly formed State.

THE Babulal Marandi government in Jharkhand State is being haunted by naxalite violence. Repeated appeals to extremist outfits to stop the Statewide violence having failed, the Chief Minister decided to tread cautiously while giving a message to the peop le of Jharkhand. "A period of 60 days is not enough to assess the development of the State," Marandi said in the message on January 10 and promised a secure and crime-free system at the earliest for the infant State.

However, he refrained from elaborating on this and remained silent on the issue of the naxalite menace in the State. "Extremism-related violence is going to slow down... If the main grouse of these outfits is the underdevelopment in the State, let them g ive us a chance to develop the State," Marandi said. He also urged the naxalite outfits to give up the path of violence.

On the opening day of the first session of the newly formed Jharkhand Assembly on November 17 last year, legislators belonging to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party asserted that naxalite violence had almost ceased since their government came to power. Wi thin 15 days of this claim being made, the situation was back to square one, with killings - including that of a block development officer (BDO) of Giddhaur - reported from the districts of Gumla, Hazaribagh and Palamau. Marandi's silence is especially b affling since his message came just a couple of days after the BDO's gruesome killing. Earlier, Ajoy Kumar Singh, Superintendent of Police (S.P.) of Lohardaga and Archana Sharma, wife of Deepak Prasad, Deputy Commissioner (D.C.) of Hazaribagh were killed by outlawed Marxist Communist Centre (MCC) activists.

According to a section of the local press, the naxalites have rejected the government's call to return to mainstream politics. Police sources say that the districts of Palamau, Garhwa, Hazaribagh and Giridh are the worst affected. A report by the special branch police has stated that Chatra district is virtually ruled by the MCC. The ultra-Left outfit has also issued 'death warrants' against S.P.s, D.C.s and even politicians including Chief Minister Marandi. Last year also saw the emergence of a religio us outfit, the Ali Sena, in Mandar near Ranchi, the State capital.

The Centre has asked the Jharkhand government to prepare a detailed report on the extremism which is a headache to the administrative machinery of the new State as it had been to the parent State of Bihar. Marandi has promised to deal with the matter on a priority basis. "Develop-ment is our priority and in course of ensuring it, we will have to improve the law and order situation. It is a prerequisite of development," he said.

At least 14 of the 18 districts in Jharkhand are affected by extremist activity. The BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA), a major Oppos-ition presence in the Bihar Assembly before the bifurcation of the State, had held the Rashtriya Janata Dal gov ernment responsible for the violence, but now it remains silent on the issue. Marandi was in Delhi in the first week of December to discuss with Union Home minister L. K. Advani the issue of extremist violence. He is also learnt to have met Prime Ministe r Atal Behari Vajpayee and Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha to discuss development plans for the State.

Marandi is now busy assessing the progress of the programmes initiated by his government. Some of these steps, which Marandi describes as "the beginning" include "checking the absence of teachers of government schools and colleges; improving the quality of education by constituting a Jharkhand Secondary Education Board, an Intermediate Council and a Jharkhand Public Service Commission. Residential schools for tribal girl students are also envisaged. On infrastructure development, the agenda includes pow er, roads and employment generation. "People are watching. Their expectations are very high," said a senior BJP MP. As a major step towards all-round village level development, the Marandi government has announced the holding of panchayat elections in Ma y this year. It also announced the constitution of the Jharkhand armed force with a strength of 2,000 jawans in order to improve the law and order situation.

"Our destination could be distant, but not difficult," claims Marandi while promising to provide justice and security to the people.

But the Opposition parties in Jharkhand, particularly the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) of Sibu Soren, the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) of Laloo Prasad Yadav and the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation, are not going to make things easy f or Marandi. Soon after he became Chief Minister, Marandi came out with a statement that no one would be allowed to dictate terms to his government. This triggered a demonstration by Opposition parties in the State capital who opposed the appointment of P rabhat Kumar as State Governor. The protest was based on his alleged role in the demolition of the Babri Masjid. An Opposition-sponsored dawn-to-dusk bandh on November 20 turned violent in Ranchi when a section of the bandh supporters allegedly incited a particular community over the issue by hoisting black flags and burning effigies of the Governor. One person was killed when the police opened fire at the protesters.

And barely two months after the BJP captured power in the State, indefinite curfew was clamped in all 'communally sensitive' areas of Ranchi following mob violence in Muslim-dominated localities of the city. The situation took a turn for the worse when a n eight-year-old Muslim girl was crushed to death by a police vehicle on December 28. In the clashes that followed, three members of the minority community were killed in police firing and the Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) of Ranchi, U.C. Jha, su ccumbed to injuries sustained in a mob attack. For four days, Ranchi witnessed incessant clashes between angry policemen and majority communal forces on the one side, and members of the minority community on the other. The situation became so bad that th e Army had to be deployed in all Muslim-dominated areas. At the cremation of the DSP, hundreds of policemen raised anti-government slogans. Policemen virtually launched a revolt against the government over the death and condemned Chief Minister Marandi's apparent callousness with regard to the incident. The policemen became so agitated that senior administration officials had to be escorted out of the cremation ground by Rapid Action Force (RAF) personnel.

Marandi's assumption of office as the first Chief Minister of Jharkhand has ironically, paved the way for the political revival of Sibu Soren. Soren, who until the last moment nursed hopes of becoming Chief Minister, lost in the numbers game which turned to the BJP's advantage. Soren, called 'Guruji' and was superhero to the Santhals, became a fallen hero after he was charged of accepting bribes, and reportedly getting his private secretary killed as well as playing into the hands of one party or anothe r for pelf. Soren had almost sunk to political oblivion, but the recent developments have strengthened his role as an Opposition leader.

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