The Uttar Pradesh Police’s Anti-Terrorism Squad claimed to have arrested a former area commander of the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist) on Saturday night along with five accomplices from Hindon Vihar in Noida, around 22 km from Delhi. Four more persons linked to the same group were subsequently arrested from a village in Chandauli, near Varanasi, the next day.
Senior Uttar Pradesh police officers identified three of the 10 arrested people as former members of the People’s War Group, which merged with the Maoist Communist Centre of India in 2004 to form the Communist Party of India (Maoist). One of them, after being released from jail, had joined the Maoist splinter group Tritiya Sammelan Prastuti Committee, which declared that its parent organisation was its prime enemy.
“The role of the other men who were arrested is still being investigated,” said additional superintendent Rahul Srivastav, the Uttar Pradesh Police spokesperson.
The police officers said that the gang was planning to loot bank Automated Teller Machines, or ATMs, and carry out abductions for ransom in the National Capital Region.
Though the police has earlier claimed to have arrested Maoist ideologues from cities such as Delhi and Hyderabad, there have been few reports of the arrest of Maoists planning to carry out criminal activities in major urban areas.
While in Delhi, there were questions whether the arrests marked a turn in Maoist activities, police personnel and civil society activists working in Jharkhand and Bihar – where Maoists are active – said that they were simply evidence of a larger trend of criminalisation seen in the Maoist movement over the past 15 years.
The activists say that the trend possibly started due to Jharkhand’s policy of tacitly supporting splinter groups in order to counter Maoist influence in its Maoist-affected regions. Though the policy worked well initially, members of the splinter groups eventually turned to crime and spread out to neighbouring states like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.
According to the police, three of the 10 accused – Sunil Ravidas, alias Kamlesh, Ranjit Paswan, alias Santosh Paswan, and Krishna Kumar – were earlier associated with the People’s War Group, the parent group of Communist Party of India (Maoist). While the first two are originally from Chandauli in Uttar Pradesh, Kumar is from Rohtas in Bihar. The police said that these men had undergone arms training in the Bihar-Jharkhand region.
The police said that all members of the group were linked to Pavan Kumar Jha, a realtor in Noida, who is originally from Bihar's Madhubani district. They said that Jha had suffered severe losses over the past few years and was in the process of forming a gang to settle scores with his rivals. It is for this reason that he had come into contact with people from Maoist splinter cells, said the police.
The police recovered 125 detonators, three rifles (including an Indian Small Arms System, or INSAS, assault rifle), three .32 pistols, a 9mm pistol, and three country-made revolvers from the accused.
Ravidas, according to the police, had left home in his teens and started working at an eatery in Sasaram, Bihar, that was owned by a “sub zonal commander of People’s War Group”. The police also said that Ravidas was in touch with Kameshwar Baitha, a former area commander who won the Lok Sabha elections from Palamu in Jharkhand in 2009.
Ravidas was arrested in 2011 from Sonbhadra in Uttar Pradesh along with an alleged zonal commander of the Communist Party of India (Maoist) and two others. Once out on bail, according to the police, Ravidas joined the Tritiya Sammelan Prastuti Committee, a Maoist splinter group which originated in Chatra district of Jharkhand. The police said that Ravidas was an active member of the group and was eventually acquainted with the second alleged Maoist, Krishna Kumar, who paid him Rs 10,000 to help Noida property dealer Pavan Kumar Jha in connection with his business rivals.
A police statement said that Kumar, a college dropout, earned his living driving a passenger jeep in Bihar when he began to act as a courier for the “People's War”. He later helped the group in its extortion activities, said the police. “He underwent arms training in Kaimur in Bihar,” said the statement.
About Ranjeet Paswan, the police statement said that Paswan had met someone called “Rampati Naxali” – whom the Anti-Terrorism Squad is also seeking – at the age of 13 and “joined People’s War”. The police said Paswan had been an area commander of the Communist Party of India (Maoist) in Kaimur, Bihar. He had been arrested in Uttar Pradesh and spent nine years in jail. After he was released, he came in contact with Jha.
The police statement said: “To make up for losses, Pavan [Jha] took responsibility for arranging AK-47 and explosives. They were planning to loot ATM, carry out abductions.”
The Tritiya Sammelan Prastuti Committee, which Ravidas is alleged to have been part of, was formed in 2003 after a number of Communist Party of India (Maoist) cadres, comprising mostly Dalits, split from the parent outfit alleging that the party’s decision-making process was dominated by the Yadav caste. The splinter outfit has often declared that its main enemy was not the police, but its parent outfit.
A senior police officer who has led anti-Maoist operations in the Bihar-Jharkhand region said that the Uttar Pradesh arrests may be evidence of a pattern of criminalisation of armed Maoist insurgents.
“Groups such as Tritiya Sammelan Prastuti Committee have been trying to expand into Bihar’s Gaya, Aurangabad districts, making attempts to collect levies and carrying out abductions,” said the police officer. “In the past few years, with the Maoists in decline, the police has intensified operations against splinter groups [and] their members are leaving and running away with arms, acting as criminal gangs.”
Taking to crime
In Jharkhand, which recorded the highest incidence of Maoist violence in the country between 2011 and 2013, the activities of splinter Maoist groups has intensified over the last five years. These now account for more than half the recorded incidents of Left-wing extremism in the state.
Human rights activist Gladson Dungdung said that Jharkhand’s policy of giving tacit support to splinter groups worked well in the initial years. “[But] after they [splinter groups] successfully cleared quite a few Maoist-dominated areas, they resorted to organised crime like abduction, extortion and arms supply.”
Gopinath Ghosh, a human rights activist and researcher at the Jharkhand-based Bindra Institution for Research, Study and Action, which has published a study on violence by splinter groups in the region, estimated that there were over 24 such groups operating in the state.
“There is evidence that the police took the support of fighting Maoists in the area for years, and in some districts, they still do it,” he said. “There can be no strategy better than to let the groups fight among themselves.”
But like Dungdung, Ghosh added that members of splinter groups eventually resorted to crime.
Said Ghosh: “They may have started as Maoist splinter groups, but with time they have reduced themselves to mere organised criminal groups whose main source of earning is abduction and extortion in and around coal mines with political patronage from local MLAs”
Both Dungdung and Ghosh said that splinter groups frequently clashed over their areas of dominance and share of booty.
Ghosh expressed surprise at the Uttar Pradesh Police’s statement that the group may have been planning an ATM robbery. “It makes no sense,” he said. “Why would they take so much risk and plan an ATM robbery or abduction in Delhi-NCR when they have been doing that with ease in Jharkhand, extorting money from miners and transporters and occasionally abducting contractors involved in government projects, demanding hefty ransoms for their safe release.”