GET­TING AWAY WITH MURDER

Sur­ren­ders by three dreaded Maoist com­man­ders has put the spot­light on the state govern­ment’s con­tro­ver­sial re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion pol­icy

India Today - - JHARKHAND | MAOISTS - By Amitabh Sri­vas­tava in Ranchi

“I feel let down by the Jhark­hand po­lice… why are they re­ha­bil­i­tat­ing a bru­tal killer like Pa­han?” SU­NITA IN­DUWAR Late Fran­cis In­duwar’s wife

Ev­ery­thing was in place, it even looked a bit re­hearsed. On May 14, with the me­dia in at­ten­dance, one of Jhark­hand’s most dreaded Maoists, Kun­dan Pa­han, 38, walked into the Ranchi res­i­dence of Ch­hotanag­pur range DIG A.V. Homkar to lay claim to the Rs 15 lakh re­ward on his head.

His grey hair neatly dyed, dressed in a crisp new mil­i­tary green uni­form, the five­foot five­inch tall ex­re­gional committee sec­re­tary of the CPI (Maoist) looked set for the oblig­a­tory photo shoot. “I sur­ren­der to re­pent. I take moral re­spon­si­bil­ity for the Maoists’ vi­o­lence. The CPI (Maoist) has de­vi­ated, which sad­dens me,” Pa­han said, wav­ing his arms and speak­ing with the con­fi­dence of a politi­cian. “I now wish to be a part of the govern­ment’s devel­op­ment process.”

Pa­han’s sur­ren­der seem­ingly glosses over his crim­i­nal past—74 mur­ders in­clud­ing those of Jamshed­pur MP Su­nil Ma­hato in 2007, JD(U)’s Ta­mar MLA Ramesh Munda and Bundu DSP Pramod Ku­mar in 2008. But even th­ese pale be­fore the hor­rific Oc­to­ber 2009 kid­nap­ping and be­head­ing of special branch in­spec­tor Fran­cis In­duwar.

In­duwar, 37, was kid­napped on Septem­ber 30 that year in Khunti dis­trict by Pa­han’s gang. He was tor­ tured for six days be­fore be­ing killed and de­cap­i­tated. Pa­han now pins the blame on an­other dead Maoist. No­body be­lieves him.

In the last seven years, 159 Maoists have sur­ren­dered to the state. But three high­pro­file sur­ren­ders in 2017—by Maoist lead­ers re­spon­si­ble for the mur­ders of po­lice of­fi­cers and politi­cians—have led some of­fi­cers to pri­vately ques­tion the ef­fi­cacy of the state’s sur­ren­der pol­icy. In Fe­bru­ary, Kanhu Munda, in­volved in sev­eral mur­ders in­clud­ing that of in­spec­tor Sushil Nag, sur­ren­dered be­fore the West Ben­gal po­lice. Nakul Ya­dav, who is al­leged to have killed 20 po­lice­men, sur­ren­dered on May 4 in Ranchi in front of ADG R.K. Mal­lik. Re­gional com­man­der Ya­dav, with a re­ward of Rs 15 lakh on his head, sur­ren­dered with zonal com­man­der Madan Ya­dav (Rs 5 lakh).

On April 29, two Maoist lead­ers, Nunulal Hansda and Devilal Hansda, sur­ren­dered in Jhark­hand’s Dumka dis­trict. The two were al­legedly in­volved in the July 2013 killing of

Pakur SP Amar­jit Bal­i­har and the Septem­ber 2010 killing of in­spec­tor Satanand Singh. The two re­port­edly also mur­dered Chris­tian nun Sis­ter Valsa Malamel in Novem­ber 2011. On April 26, as many as 10 Maoists, in­clud­ing area com­man­der Vishal Kher­war and sub zonal com­man­der Haren­dra Oraon, sur­ren­dered be­fore the Lo­hardaga po­lice.

In­ci­den­tally, all states af­fected by Maoist vi­o­lence have a sur­ren­der pol­icy to bring rebels back into the main­stream. The Cen­tre re­im­burses the ex­pen­di­ture in­curred by this. Home min­istry guide­lines rec­om­mend an im­me­di­ate grant of

Rs 2.5 lakh for high ranked left wing ex­trem­ist (LWE) cadre and Rs 1.5 lakh for mid­dle/ lower ranked ones.

THE SUR­REN­DER POL­ICY

In­tro­duced in 2001 and last amended in 2015 (when it was re­named Nayi Disha), the Jhark­hand govern­ment’s sur­ren­der and re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion pol­icy has been con­tro­ver­sial for its band­aid ap­proach to ex­trem­ism, its vul­ner­a­bil­ity to scams and for be­com­ing an easy way for the state po­lice to boost sur­ren­der sta­tis­tics. (Be­tween 2011 and 2012, as many as 514 un­sus­pect­ing youth with no po­lice records were lured into sur­ren­der­ing as ‘Nax­alites’ and of­fered jobs as con­sta­bles with the CRPF.)

The new spell of sur­ren­ders presents a fresh dilemma. Though sur­ren­ders do not mean im­mu­nity from pros­e­cu­tion (the pol­icy ac­tu­ally rec­om­mends fast track courts to try such cases), of the 150 Maoists who have sur­ren­dered since 2008, not one has been con­victed so far.

Cases fall apart and Maoists get off the hook. “It’s a quid pro quo,” says a se­nior po­lice of­fi­cial in Ranchi. “Wit­nesses turn hos­tile and the po­lice pro­duce lit­tle ev­i­dence to help the pros­e­cu­tion be­cause there is an un­of­fi­cial go­slow on cases. Of­fi­cials feel the Maoists will back out if even one of them gets con­victed.”

This weak pol­icy presents Maoists with an op­por­tu­nity to escape pun­ish­ment for past crimes, and is one pos­si­ble rea­son why the trickle of sur­ren­ders has turned into a flood this year. Thirty-three Maoists, many of them top lead­ers, had sur­ren­dered to the state po­lice till May 21 this year. There is a school of thought which asks why a pol­icy like the one in Jammu & Kash­mir can­not be fol­lowed. In J&K, the state of­fers sur­ren­dered mil­i­tants Rs 1.5 lakh but they have to be free from all pend­ing cases to claim it.

The prospect of see­ing mur­der­ers blithely run­ning free in pub­lic has left the fam­i­lies of vic­tims seething. “I feel let down by the Jhark­hand po­lice… why are they re­ha­bil­i­tat­ing a bru­tal killer like Pa­han?” asks Su­nita In­duwar, wife of the slain special branch of­fi­cer. Vikas Ku­mar Munda, an MLA from the All Jhark­hand Stu­dents Union (AJSU) party, was a boy when his fa­ther Ramesh Singh Munda was killed by Pa­han’s men in 2008. He says he is dis­gusted by the wel­come given to the mur­derer. “Is the Jhark­hand po­lice set­ting an ex­am­ple to mo­ti­vate youths to join the Maoists... kill peo­ple, mint money and sur­ren­der and hap­pily go back home with lakhs and even land,” he asks. Ad­di­tional DGP R.K. Mal­lik, though, de­fends Pa­han’s sur­ren­der. “He was just a cog in the gi­ant wheel of left-wing ex­trem­ism. And he will be tried in the courts for his of­fences,” he says.

Pa­han’s case has been a turn­ing point. Re­sent­ment over his sur­ren­der echoed in the Jhark­hand High Court which ini­ti­ated a suo motu PIL on the is­sue a day af­ter his sur­ren­der. The court asked the Raghubar Das govern­ment to re­spond to al­le­ga­tions that the ex­trem­ists were be­ing turned into ‘Robin Hoods’ and asked the state to pro­vide de­tails of the money of­fered to them.

A di­vi­sion bench took cog­ni­sance of news­pa­per re­ports af­ter ad­vo­cate He­mant Shikar­war, the am­i­cus cu­riae in the case, ap­pealed to the court. Shikar­war ar­gued that Pa­han’s sur­ren­der and re­wards would only glo­rify him, prompt­ing other crim­i­nals to fol­low suit. The next hear­ing of the case is in June.

The Das govern­ment has pre­ferred to ig­nore the out­rage, pos­si­bly be­cause it sees the sur­ren­der pol­icy as key to its prom­ise to elim­i­nate Maoists by 2018. Jhark­hand DGP D.K. Pandey has of­ten been quoted on his re­solve to “elim­i­nate left-wing ex­trem­ism” by year-end.

In the con­text, the alacrity with which the cops al­lowed Pa­han to turn him­self in is un­der­stand­able. It’s a low-cost pol­icy—the state spent just Rs 2.61 crore in 2016-17 and Rs 2.98 crore in 2015 in re­ward money to po­lice (for Maoist-re­lated break­throughs) and for sur­ren­dered rebels. But the state’s claim that the sur­ren­der pol­icy has im­proved law and order rings false. In 2016, only Ch­hat­tis­garh (395 vi­o­lent in­ci­dents and 107 deaths) saw more vi­o­lence than Jhark­hand (323 in­ci­dents, 85 deaths). The two states to­gether ac­counted for 69 per cent of the vi­o­lent deaths in Maoist-re­lated episodes.

“The sur­ren­der pol­icy is not an amnesty scheme, the state is du­ty­bound to pros­e­cute them as per law,” says Shikar­war, who has ap­pealed to the court to stop the en­cash­ment of the Rs 15 lakh cheque given to Pa­han. “How can one con­done the mur­ders and rapes? This go-slow pol­icy against sur­ren­dered Nax­als is be­com­ing lu­cra­tive for both the Maoists and the cops.”

What’s more far­ci­cal is that the pol­icy ac­tu­ally al­lows ‘re­formed’ Maoists to en­joy their loot. The CPI (Maoist) had ex­pelled Pa­han in 2013 for swin­dling ex­tor­tion ‘levies’ meant for the group and sex­u­ally ex­ploit­ing girl re­cruits. Pa­han had then formed his own gang of break­away Maoists. He now claims that he does not know what hap­pened to the Rs 5.07 crore in cash and 1.2 kg of gold looted from an ICICI bank

van in 2008, nor the where­abouts of the AK-47s his gang had. In his for­mal con­fes­sion, Pa­han blames oth­ers for si­phon­ing off the money. Be­sides the Rs 15 lakh re­ward, he stands to get Rs 5 lakh for re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion, Rs 5,000 as stipend for vo­ca­tional train­ing for a year, funds to ed­u­cate his chil­dren till their grad­u­a­tion and more ben­e­fits.

Mean­while, Nakul Ya­dav, an­other Maoist com­man­der who sur­ren­dered this month, had at least Rs 61 lakh in a bank ac­count and is be­lieved to be worth crores (ac­cord­ing to the tes­ti­mony of his brother Ro­hit Ya­dav, ar­rested late last year).

It’s not just the lure of money that is draw­ing the Maoists out of their jun­gle re­doubts. In the past, politi­cians in the state had been ac­cused of us­ing Maoists to garner votes. This was un­til Kamesh­war Baitha showed his com­rades how to win in pol­i­tics too. Baitha, with 46 crim­i­nal cases against him, was ar­rested in 2005, and re­leased on bail in 2011. But even be­fore be­ing re­leased, he had stunned peo­ple by win­ning the Palamu Lok Sabha seat on a JMM ticket in the 2009 Lok Sabha elec­tions. Hav­ing lost the 2014 elec­tion, Baitha stays in Garhwa dis­trict, vir­tu­ally a free bird.

Since then, the state has seen sev­eral Maoist lead­ers try­ing their luck them­selves or by proxy in elec­toral pol­i­tics. Baitha fielded his daugh­ter-in-law Geeta Devi in the 2011 pan­chayat polls. As many as 25 women can­di­dates, backed by the CPI (Maoist) and splin­ter group Tritya Pras­tuti Committee won un­op­posed in Cha­tra, Lo­hardaga and Palamu dis­tricts in the same elec­tion.

Pa­han is al­ready say­ing he wants to con­test the 2019 Jhark­hand polls. “If the govern­ment gives me some re­spon­si­bil­ity, I will hon­estly do it. I also want to con­test elec­tions,” he told the me­dia on May 14. Shed­ding the Maoists’ green fa­tigues for the politi­cian’s white kur­tapy­jama, Pa­han may be within grasp of the ul­ti­mate safety shield.

Pho­to­graphs by SOMNATH SEN

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