Money and Maoists are now reaching out to take over the reins of power
Businesses in Jharkhand are desperate for a way out of the terror raj. Surendra Bengali is languishing in Hazaribagh Jail, but when he "ruled" Ranchi along with Anil Sharma in the mid-90s, nothing moved after dark. Life came automatically to a total standstill, such was the reputation of these two crimelords. It was then that a fairly unassuming senior superintendent of police, a certain Amitabh Choudhary, moved into office and picked up the two dreaded gansters almost as if by magic and restored Ranchi's peace.
At Ranchi today, ordinary people recall those days. "The present day Red-terror reminds me of those dreadful days of Anil Sharma and Surendra Bengali when there were no night shows and nobody would venture out after 7 pm. How can we do business in such an environment," asked Bikash Singh, a Ranchi-based industrialist and former president of Jharkhand Small Industries Association (JSIA).
Talking to ET, Singh said that though he voted on polling day, he was really pained that none of Jharkhand's politicians ever raise the issue of how this terror raj is affecting small businesses. And not small businesses alone.
According to a Central Coalfield Limited (CCL) official, truck movement had come to a halt on as many as 88 days in the financial year. "Production went down as a result and our business could have been much better only if trucks had a free run," he said.
Indeed, movement on highways have got really hit due to the fear of Naxalite depredations. A survey made recently claims that while trucks run 350-450 kms on average a day in South India, in Jharkhand it is limited to just about 125-200 kms. According to Uday Shankar Ojha of the Jharkhand Truck Owners' Association : "Except for the Grand Trunk Road and the Patna-Ranchi-Jamshedpur National Highway 33, we cannot even think of moving on the road after sunset." While some 35-40,000 trucks ply within Jharkhand every day, about 10-15,000 also pass through to adjoining states. This gives an idea of how heavy the truck movement in the state actually is and most of these trucks actually ferry ore and coal to different industrial units.
"There are six points of exit from Ranchi, but except for NH 33, none are safe at night. So no trucker from Ranchi would move towards Gumla (connecting Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra and Gujarat), Daltonganj (connecting UP and MP), Khunti (connecting Chaibasa, Barbil and Orissa), Silli for West Bengal for Patratu for Barkakana after 6 pm. Same is the situation with buses," said Ojha.
There are also problems of no-entry in the state capital. So in a way, trucks run only 12 hours in Jharkhand and they remain stranded for the other 12 hours. Then you have the frequent bandhs that Maoists call and truckers have no option but to stay put. If a truck owner earns Rs 2000 a day, 25,000 truck owners in Jharkhand would lose about Rs 5 crore a day whenever there is a Maoist bandh", Ojha said.
With 18 out of 24 districts in their pocket and them running parallel governments in places like Chatra and Latehar, Maoists and Naxals really have a field day. With the administration crippled and politicians corrupt, businessmen are at the mercy of extremists. In the last four months alone, Maoists have called bandhs on 16 days and all of them were successful. Nothing moved.
And not business alone either. Dr Ajay Kumar Singh, former national secretary of the Indian Medical Association said : "None of our doctors want to stay in rural areas because of Maoists' fear. We often get threat calls. Government doctors posted in peripheral areas tend to return home early, affecting health services. Private doctors never plan to settle in rural pockets".
Policemen also tend to avoid postings in Naxal-infested areas. "So far about 300 policemen have been killed in different incidents of Naxalite violence," said Lalmohar Singh, president of the Jharkhand Police Association. "Though the Centre has given a good amount of money for modernisation of the police force, it has never been utilised properly. There have been cases where the funds have been diverted for other purposes," he said. And ofcourse there hangs a story....
Suggested understrap: In Jharkhand's insurgency, there are no rules, just fear. Not content with the dominance born out of political patronage,
money and arms, Maoists are now reaching out to take over the reins of power. For the locals who have been living under the shadow of terrorism in a state helmed by short-sighted corrupt politicians for years now, the only thing that matters anymore is peace.
"Corruption and hypocrisy ought not to be inevitable products of democracy, as they undoubtedly are today"
-- Mahatma Gandhi
There were masked, hooded men before too, men who moved like shadows in the dark of the night, a high-calibre rifle cradled carelessly on the arm, men who caused the police and administration of three adjoining states decades of fitful sleep, men who killed for honour, the Baaghis of Chambal.
But there was romanticism surrounding Man Singh, Panna, Sultan, Lakhan Singh, Madho Singh, Mohur Singh, Chidda Singh Sikarwar, Lukka Daku or Lokman Dikshit as he was born.... . Villagers feared them, but they adored them too. Honour ruled their activities and stories about them usually portrayed them as custodians of moral righteousness, even if they were not entirely so.
In Jharkhand, masked men rule too. However, they change their names to suit the area they operate in and they sport a trademark "ji" suffix in all non-Christian areas. So Mukulji of Dumka is Kundanji at Latehar or Salimji at Pakur which is Muslim dominated.
The same person may be John at Rajmahal or Zakaria in Littipara, where Christians form the majority. They aren't baagis; they are de-facto zamindars. They virtually control 18 of the 24 districts in the state, have paralysed the constitutional authorities who are supposed to run the administration, bludgeoned policemen into submission and killed well over 1,400 people just to make their cause known. They are sometimes referred to as Naxals, sometimes as Maoists, but essentially they are followers of a sect that believes in creating anarchy as a self-sustaining realisation of a revolutionary dream to create a classless society.
Welcome to Mao-land Jharkhand, where six successive state governments since its formation in 2000, have all tried their damndest best to topple the other in order to rule and in the process, have befriended Maoists to spread anarchy during the other's regime.
Very simply put, you cannot exterminate Maoists in Jharkhand by use of force, because every local political honcho wants them on their side, irrespective of party colour. And the motive is entirely selfish, because unless you can destabilise the ruling government, you cannot come to power yourself and so on... . Naturally therefore, everything has taken a backseat in Jharkhand. Only the Frankensteins rule. A taste of that this country witnesses in the ongoing Lok Sabha elections.
Cut to this very powerful politician, an MLA who spoke to ET about the Naxal menace last week. "A road which was supposed to be built under a government scheme in my constituency, was not getting built. So I asked about the delay. To my utter shock and dismay, the engineer in charge told me that there was a delay because extremists have demanded a levy and if it was not paid, they wouldn't allow the road to be built.
There was so much of public pressure for the road, that I had to ask the engineer to do whatever was required so that the road gets constructed. I was helpless, but I cannot escape the ground reality."
Obviously, money had to be given as ransom for the road and in all likelihood the MLA paid out of his pocket or shelled out party funds or maybe funds from other sources. But that's what Naxalism or Maoism in Jharkhand is all about. No matter who you are, or what you want, you need to keep them happy first.
That Maoists rule with political patronage is an accepted fact. No political party in Jharkhand has raised the issue of Naxal menace prominently in their manifestos. There are vague references to bringing back "those who have been misguided to the mainstream", some appeals to "shun violence", but nothing more than that.
Former CM and JMM chief Shibu Soren has always referred to the extremists as "bhai bandhus" and although he had sought a financial assistance of Rs 7,126 crore from the 13th Finance Commission to combat the "grave menace", he also released three notorious Maoists from jail when he was contesting the Tamar byelections, just so that the Naxals support him. Crack commando forces galore have been raised and named either the Special Task Force or Jharkhand Jaguars, but they have not been used to combat extremists. These battle specialists are now used for providing security to ministers and VIPs.
Intelligence reports say Maoists have very good bases in rural pockets and that they also control a large part of the economy by collecting levies from contractors, miners, industrialists, transporters, forest produce dealers -- nobody escapes by not paying. Even state bureaucrats do, just to ensure that token administration can be run atleast. And no politician dares to disturb this arrangement either.
Former Jharkhand chief minister Babulal Marandi lost his son to Maoists last year. "Nobody, including politicians, wants to take any trouble. They want the easy way out. When politics has become confined to individual growth, what else can you expect," he said.
Ofcourse you become wise after the horse has bolted and in Babulal's case, he lost his son. But then to his credit goes the fact that during his regime he had announced a surrender policy to woo Maoists and Naxals to give up arms and join the mainstream. As was only to be expected, the scheme didn't work. These are no Makhan Singhs or Mohur Singhs, and Babulal Marandi was no Jayaprakash Narayan.
Noted social activist Faisal Anurag dismisses theories that the extremist problem is an economical and law-and-order problem. "It is a purely political issue. Politicians are in fact their associates. It is an open secret that these politicians get monetary support from Naxals when they are not in power, and therefore it is foolish to expect them to act against their financiers when they are in power" Anurag said.
Mr Harivansh, a senior journalist who has been tracing the growth of naxalism in the state ever since inception felt that the state always lacked honest and dedicated leadership and that this has resulted in the failure of the system. This has also subsequently alienated people from the government.
"This has been the root cause for the rise in insurgency at ground level, but no government has taken it seriously because every politician has remained busy making money for himself. A large number of corruption cases against many of these politicians is a living testimony to this," Mr Harivansh said.
But what's most terrifying is the fact that extremists are no longer content playing a passive role, no longer satisfied with disruptive politics. Kameshwar Baitha, a former hardcore Maoist, contested the byelections at Palamau two years back and came second at the hustings. This time, he is contesting the Lok Sabha elections from the same constituency and it is being said that he will give a tough fight to sitting RJD MP Ghuran Ram. Similarly, in the Simaria assembly byelection last year, two former Maoists contested. This time, a jailed Maoist, Ranjan Yadav is contesting from Chatra constituency and he is giving a good fight.
Chhatarpur MLA Radha Krishna Kishore sees the writing on the wall maybe. "Instead of supporting politicians, they are themselves now planning perhaps to take over the reins of power. They might also be conspiring to get access to secret government documents through friendly 'honourable' MLAs" he said. Nepal may have been a very different ball game, but the question uppermost to many in Jharkhand now is whether, after all its misfortunes, the state will also live to see a day when Maoists would rule along with their present-day "friends" in power ?
Will it be all that bad or will that be good ? Frankly, Jharkhand's intelligentsia or whatever is left of it, doesn't quite have the answer. They have lived since 2000 with short-sighted corrupt politicians who promise administration, but have so far not been able to run even one successfully for long.
Administration has gone for a toss and the state, in all respects, is sinking despite its potential. The fear factor and the killings only make matter worse.
"Babu kya farak parega Ghuran Ram ayaa ki Kameshwar Baitha ? Humlog sirf shanti chahte hain" (What difference will it make Sir, if Ghuran Ram comes or Kameshwar Baitha ? We just want peace) said Lalan, a panwallah in Ranchi. That, one supposes, is what everybody in Jharkhand wants