In a forest village, a parallel conversation

The Hindu Blogs

It was a weekday when I got a call from Manohar*, an invite to attend a shahaadat diwas in Chotanagpur region the next day. Two months back, Manohar had helped us get in touch with the CPI(Maoist) for an interview. As he said shahadat diwas, a day to commemorate martyrdom, I was unsure if it was the rebels’ leaders’ lives the ceremony was meant to recount, but had little opportunity to ask till I was on the road with him the next day.
A few hours out of Ranchi as we reached the forest, the road gave way to a dirt track winding through rocky outcrops. Mahua trees were in bloom, its yellow fruit scattered on the ground. Sal was sprouting fresh green leaves.

Vote ke jariye sarkaar ke rang badalta hai, shoshan-shaashan bandh nahin hota hai – Bhakpa (Maowadi) “Voting will change shades of governance, not repression,” the banned CPI(Maoist)’s message for boycotting elections scrawled in large brown letters on the wall of a hut painted white. The hut’s inhabitants went about their routine.

The path soon gave way to a large clearing. Here, at the base of a hill, the villagers – men dressed in white shirts and dhoti, women in sarees, musicians with drums, dancers with plastic flowers in their hair – were under one tent, and in front of them were two six feet-high statues under a bright blue and yellow canopy.

It was only then that it became clear the farmers from several villages around the hills had gathered to celebrate the lives of two of their ancestors, whom they described as the first from Jharkhand to fight the British. They recounted that Bakhtar Say and Mundal Singh had been executed to their deaths defeated by the British in April 1812 – nearly 45 years before what I had learned in textbooks to remember as the first year of Indians’ rebellion against the British, the Mutiny of 1857. “Bakhtar Say and Mundal Singh of Navagarh and Panari Pargana amar rahein,” began Govardhan Singh of the village path pradarshak samiti that has been organizing the function every April.

Who were the two? What had they done? Was their any direct link between the Maoists’ presence in the area and this public ceremony? And how did this affect the politics, voting of these interior villages? I wondered as I watched ceremony those gathered had organized to honour their first freedom fighters.

This is how the organizers described the story of Bakhtar Say and Mundal Singh’s lives:
Bakhtar Say and Mundal Singh, two landowners, fought against the British in Chottanagpur region 1812 onwards. When the British government ordered Govind Nath Shahdeo, the king of Chotanagpur, to pay Rs 12,000 as tax to the East India Company, Bakthar Say refused on behalf of the peasants of the area Navagarh Raidih. This provoked a fight in which Bakhtar Say killed Hira Ram, the Ratu courtier sent to collect this tax. The magistrate of Ramgarh then sent an army from Hazaribagh under Lieutenant H Odonel, while reaching out to the kings of Jashpur and Sarguja (in present-day Chhattisgarh) to surround Say from all sides. At this time, Mundal Singh reached Navagarh to help Bakhtar Say. The battle lasted two days. Say’s armymade up of farmers of the area held off the British, something the kings and rulers of Navagarh, Panari, Gumla had failed at.
But a month later, E Rafreez of Ramgarh Battalion planned a second charge against both leading a large army. This battle lasted three days. Say and Singh were forced to seek shelter with Jashpur ruler Ranjeet Singh. The latter betrayed their confidence and they were arrested and taken to Calcutta where they were executed on 4 April 1812.
A Google search for the two’s names to read or corroborate for oneself yields nothing.

The sun climbed higher but the people kept coming in hundreds. By late afternoon, the numbers had increased to thousands. Those who took turns to speak paid homage, and compared Say and Singh’s revolt to the struggle of tribal villagers who sent several years in jail in Latehar and Chaibasa prisons charged by forest officials for collecting firewood from forests. Others compared the struggle of Say and Singh against the British in the 19th century to the displacement of lakhs of Jharkhand’s tribals in the last hundred years, reflecting the feeling many describe as Jharkhand’s “repeated colonisation” – first by the Biritish, then ruling governments, and now large mining firms.

“Political leaders visit and try as may to talk sweet, they will have to answer about our displacement,” Munna Kisan, the village shahadat diwas committee convenor, a frail old man wearing a white shirt over dhoti and canvas shoes spoke animatedly.

Manohar, who was in jail on charges of being a Maoist, asked questions that have been absent from the political and TV debates preceding elections – why do a majority of women in the country still have khoon ki kami (anaemia), if even a single school or wells had been built in the village every year since Independence would things not be different, why were gram sabha resolutions on use of land and trees flouted despite Constitutional provisions, were leaders living in Delhi capable of ever understanding the lives and priorities of Jharkhand’s villagers?

As the villagers watched, several young men dressed in shirts and trousers came and watched from afar. The organizing committee members identified the men as from the local squad of the CPI(Maoist). The carnival grew bigger. The karam dances grew more vibrant. The festivities would go on all night, Nagpuri artists were expected to perform at night. The villagers said they had collected over one lakh rupees to organize the meeting. The “party” (Maoists) had contributed additional funds. To celebrate two martyrs the villagers associated with the Indian freedom movement, I wondered.

“They maoists are samaaj sewi (social workers), except they carry guns,” offered the panchayat’s young woman mukhiya when I asked her about the presence of armed squads in the hills surrounding the village as we shared a big lunch of dal, rice, tomato chutney, and washed it down with sattu (gram flour, water). When I asked if the rebels had tried to constitute committees within the village as is common in pockets of Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh, she said the krantikari kisaan samiti had existed since several years but had made no active effort to carry out public works in the village. The perfectly amicable relationship the villagers seemed to have with the Maoists, panchayat institutions, as well as large NGOs operating in the vicinity of the villages seemed an unusual co-existence, peculiar to Jharkhand. But will the alliances of those with similar aims though different strategies here survive and evolve to question future rulers and governments?

Lok Sabha Palamu, Chatra: From jungles to the Parliament

TMC Candidate Kameshwar Baitha 1

The Hindu

In Haidarnagar market in Palamu district in Jharkhand, an area with a significant presence of Maoists, the roads are lined with red flags with images of Hanuman stitched over them. At the crossroad in the market, Bhojpuri songs blare out of loudspeakers kept in a mini truck. These are also used to announce that Kameshwar Baitha, the sitting Member of Parliament from Palamu will be holding a nukkad sabha.

In 2009, Mr. Baitha, a former Maoist commander, won the Lok Sabha elections from Palamu while serving a prison term in Bihar. He had commandeered the Koel-Sankh zone of the CPI (Maoist) along the Jharkhand-Chhattisgarh border. He won after defeating political heavyweights like the Rashtriya Janata Dal’s Ghuran Ram. After being elected to Parliament, Mr. Baitha spent another two years and 7 months in jail, getting bail only towards the end of 2011.

Last month, Mr. Baitha switched from the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha to the Trinamool Congress after it became known that the RJD and its ruling coalition partners, the JMM and the Congress would field a common candidate. The constituency is reserved for Scheduled Caste candidates. Among Mr. Baitha’s rivals this time is former chief of the Jharkhand police, Vishnu Dayal Ram, who is known for his term as Superintendent of Police in Bihar’s Bhagalpur when the infamous jail blinding incident took place there.

Mr. Baitha arrives dressed in a white kurta-pajama. He makes a brisk round of the market and shakes hands with shopkeepers and customers. He is stocky, with matted hair and a bushy moustache. Climbing atop a jeep, he then goes on to address a gathering.
TMC Candidate Kameshwar Baitha 2

“When I walked with a gun as a Maoist,” Mr. Baitha says, “I realised three things ail Palamu: unemployment, akaal (drought), and Naxalvaad (Naxalism). Mothers send their children to wash dishes in hotels, or to carry dung at landlords farms. Adults here migrate in distress to work in more developed States. Unemployment, hunger, oppression, and destruction of our culture is what causes Naxalvaad. Operation Greenhunt can never
end it,” says Baitha, as a crowd of men listens intently, while a few women watch from afar.

“By electing me, you made a social revolution possible. But I ask for your vote again to make an economic revolution this time,” he concludes, offering sattu (gram flour) water to those gathered.

Land wars, caste disparities

Back in his white SUV, Mr. Baitha explains what he means by an economic revolution.

“Palamu is an agricultural area. For the poor people’s lives to improve, the farmers need more watershed projects to irrigate their fields. Palamu’s farmers need effective land redistribution,” he says. Mr. Baitha’s nephew Mukesh Baitha sits at the back of his car, armed with a gun. A jeep full of armed police personnel is at the head of his ten-car cavalcade passing through the broken road winding through wheat fields.

In Palamu, as in entire Bihar, feudalism and the subsequent marginalisation of the lower castes, who were also landless, created a fertile ground for unrest. During the 70s, many low-caste tillers who got no relief from land reform movements joined the Maoists.

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Mr. Baitha, born in a mine worker’s family in a village in undivided Bihar’s Bishrampur, recollects he had joined the Maoist group Party Unity in the late 1980s after the Arwal massacre in which 21 supporters of the left-wing Mazdoor Kisan Sangharsh Samiti (MKSS) were killed in police firing.

From the 1990s until now, Palamu has repeatedly figured among India’s poorest districts. Splinter groups such as Tritiya Sammelan Prastuti Committee have prolifered here since the early 2000s, which Maoists allege receive police aid. In this complex milieu came Kameshwar Baitha’s unprecedented win of 2009.

At Devrikhurd village, when he stops at a paan shop, Vijay Mehta, a farmer, complains that this is Mr. Baitha’s first tour of the village after being elected. Mr. Baitha asks for forgiveness. “I got only two years and five months of my term to work,” he says. He points to a sheesham tree nearby. “If you plant a seed and it does not sprout to become a tall tree at first, will you not give it a second chance?”

At Gayabheega tola, there are several concrete houses but people from the Ravidas SC community live in thatched huts outside the main village. An old woman in a red sari, Sarda Devi, scolds Mr. Baitha for having failed to ensure that she received her widow pension. Mr. Baitha chats with her and her family and asks them to allow him to screen a CD inside their house. “This CD has recordings of the 258 questions I raised in Parliament on the Japla cement factory near here, on minerals use, on inflation,” he says as the group watches a recording of him taking oath in Parliament.

Many youngsters here have migrated to cities in search of livelihood. But several families still depend on the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme that they say is riddled with corruption. “You have been our old leader since the time we were young, but see what you can do for our livelihood,” the villagers tell Mr. Baitha as they affectionately bid him farewell in the night.

Rooting for a change

In the neighbouring Chatra constituency, former Maoist commander Ranjan Yadav is fighting on a Samajwadi Party ticket. In 2009, while serving a prison term, Mr. Yadav had unsuccessfully contested the Lok Sabha elections on a Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) ticket. Later he joined the RJD and tried lobbying with the party supremo Lalu Prasad while the latter was in Ranchi jail after being convicted in the fodder scam. After the RJD gave up the claim to field a candidate from Chatra, allowing its coalition partner Congress to field Dheeraj Sahu, Mr. Yadav switched to the SP. The constituency consists of the tribal-dominated forested Latehar district and the plains region of Chatra that has a significant population of Scheduled Castes and backward castes.

“In Mahuadan in Latehar, and in many parts of Chatra, there is no electricity even after 60 years of independence. Big corporations mine coal and iron ore but children in villages cannot even attend a good school. These are issues I want to raise through politics,” says Mr. Yadav in a white dhoti in his sparsely furnished house, still under construction in Namkum on the Ranchi border.

Since Ranjan Yadav joined mainstream politics, the CPI (Maoist) has issued public statements dubbing him as a traitor. Last September, the local CPI (Maoist) leader Sudhir issued a six-page statement against Mr. Yadav and two others — Yugal Pal, a former member of the Maoist’s zonal committee who had announced that he plans to join the All Jharkhand Students Union and former sub-zonal commander Vinod Sharma — saying anyone supporting their candidature will be tried by a jan adalat (people’s court). Mr. Yadav says he fears for his life after the fatwa which he finds unjust. Yugal Pal has since withdrawn his announcement.

Mr. Yadav recounts he had joined the Party Unity in 1990 at the age of 23 while working as a petty contractor in Palamu. “The party did a lot of good work for ordinary villagers — building checkdams, schools in Garhwa. During marriages, we would distribute utensils. But I have stopped believing we will come to power through an armed revolution,” he says.

Mr. Yadav says the Maoists have weakened because some opportunists have joined them and also because of increased police pressure. “There have been instances where the relatives of party members have become contractors. The contractors would try to bribe commanders saying they keep a cut for themselves instead of collecting funds for the party alone.”

The Maoists have accused Mr. Yadav of collaborating with the police in paramilitary operations against the Maoists. He refutes the allegations. “The CPI (Maoist) have lost their hold in Chatra because of the Tritiya Sammelan Prastuti Committee. The police is exploiting cracks within the party by supporting such splinter groups,” he said referring to a Maoist splinter group formed in early 2000s by Brajesh Ghanju citing that Ghanju dalits were not treated on par with the Yadav who then dominated the top posts then. “I have not asked for TSPC for their support but I have told them not to disturb my workers and that we won’t disturb theirs,” said Mr. Yadav of his relationship with the TSPC.

Lok Sabha Giridih: AAP goes to villages

Aam Admi Party workers recruit members at Pandri haat, Giridih. Photo by Manob Cahowdhury

Aam Admi Party workers recruit members at Pandri haat, Giridih. Photo by Manob Chowdhury


In January, while Arvind Kejriwal led a dramatic protest against the Home Ministry occupying a garden outside Rail Bhawan in New Delhi, far away in Giridih, on Bihar-Jharkhand border, protestors gathered at the centre of the old mining town. As their numbers increased to nearly a hundred, the Aam Admi Party supporters marched to Ambedkar Chowk and set fire to an effigy of Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde.

Giridih does not feature on AAP’s website yet. But over 20,000 have enrolled here as members, among the highest in Jharkhand. Most of the campaigns are organized from the office of Career Campus, a coaching institute, which effectively serves as AAP’s district office. Rajesh Sinha who set up this coaching institute 17 years ago joined Baba Ramdev’s Bharat Swamibhan Manch in 2008. Through it, he joined the India Against Corruption movement in 2010, organizing lectures and distributing CDs in colleges in Giridih. He stayed at Ramlila Maidan for two days, and when Baba Ramdev and Arvind Kejriwal parted ways, he stuck to Kejriwal.

“Baba got distracted, he should have stayed with Kejriwal. Last April when we started visiting villages, some knew of Ramdev but no one had heard of Kejriwal. Now in the same villages, we have 200 members each,” says Sinha, who has a wiry built and is dressed in jeans, and a sweatshirt. In the small ground floor office, there are advertisements for coaching for public services exams and a large poster of foreign students in graduation gowns on the wall. AAP pamphlets are strewn around.

AAP's Rajesh Sinha who runs a coaching institute in Giridih. Photo by Manob Chowdhury

AAP’s Rajesh Sinha who runs a coaching institute in Giridih. Photo by Manob Chowdhury


Sinha is organizing a visit to a village haat (weekly market) as part of the party’s rural campaign. Mansoor Ansari, one of Giridih’s AAP 20 “Core Committee” members, will lead the meeting at the haat in Pandari, 18 km from the town. In the previous weeks, he had visited Leda, Kasiyadi, and Peertand villages, close to where a Prime Minister Rural Development Fellow and three panchayat officials were abducted by CPI(Maoist) in January.
“I heard AAP leaders speak on TV. A TV reporter told me where Rajesh bhaiya lives, so I got in touch. Because of him, the electricity department which initially demanded Rs 40,000 bribe for replacing a transformer in my village did it for free,” said Ansari who works as a LIC agent and joined the party in December. AAP’s district committee treasurer here is Sushil Kumar Sonu who works as administrative staff in a B.Ed. college. “BJP has a history of instigating communal tensions here, their focus is on big capitalists. Congress is opportunist and corrupt,” he says. Sonu explained that he usually voted for Jharkhand Mukti Morcha but had found a better alternative to the two national parties than JMM in AAP.

Over 75 percent of Jharkhand’s population lives in villages. Two-thirds villages have no electricity and have little access to TVs, crucial in AAP’s quick connect and reach in cities so far. Giridih’s sitting MP Ravindra Pandey is from the BJP, and the party has won here five times since 1989. The town, Coal India Limited mining site, produced coal and exported mica between the 1960s and 80s. Most mines have now been replaced by highly polluting coal-based sponge iron units.
Rajesh Sinha says he is hopeful that a campaign demanding civic repairs, jobs for local workers in Giridih factories, and against pollution from sponge iron plants will dent the culture of alcohol-induced voting and connect with voters, at least in peripheral villages equally affected by these issues. Drawing in student volunteers, for instance by offering free books, informal coaching sessions to 500 adivasi students, is part of the strategy, says Sinha, whose institute at present has 6,000 students at six centers. Recruiting villagers, talking to them at community spaces like the haat, is another.

At the colourful market in Pandari, when Mansoor Ansari and AAP workers try to get the villagers’ attention, at first there is little response. “We are from AAP. You may have heard Arvind Kejriwal had formed the government in Delhi. Membership is free at present, Rs 10 may be added later,” they announce. Adivasi, muslim, Bhokta dalit villagers from the hamlets nearby continue their chores, chimney stacks of sponge-iron plants visible in the distance. Baldev Pandit asks aloud if they are distributing pension forms, Sadhori Devi selling fresh tomatoes says she is unable to read what the banner says.

Soon after, Mohammad Tahir Ansari a college student and an acquaintance of Mansoor goes over to listen. He says he had read about AAP in the papers. Pritam Yadav, an electrician signs up for membership. “I have seen the AAP caps on TV,” he says, though he is uncertain who their leader is. Two B.com. students from Giridih College also recognize AAP from TV and sign up. “What party? Kejri who?” asks Shiv Lal an old farmer holding a bunch of spinach in his hands.

Kalicharan Soren who works as a night-guard since he lost his job his job in a factory listens carefully when party workers describe AAP will demand jobs for locals, fight against industrial pollution affecting the villages. But he remains sceptical. “We will see whether they will really challenge the factories,” he says.

An edited version appeared in The Hindu Sunday magazine.

Lok Sabha Khunti: Dayamani’s long fight for the forests, for equality

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Dayamani Barla had made up her mind to fight elections soon after being released from jail. In the winter of 2012, the activist spent 69 days locked in a small cell in Birsa Munda jail in Ranchi. She was accused in a case relating to leading 400 Oraon tribal farmers in Nagri as they questioned why the campuses of elite institutes such as the IIM Ranchi, and a national law university be built on their fertile multi-crop farmland when there was ample barren land nearby.

Nagri’s tribal women farmers carried fruits for Dayamani at every appearance she made at Ranchi courts as the arguments for bail went on. She recounts being able to see only a patch of the sky from her tiny cell’s window. Her sister-in-law passed away while she was in jail. “When I came out I felt vulnerable. I needed a formal alliance to back me in this work. Market forces put a price on every human being and institution, and many are drawn to individualism. But there is still a collective spirit in villages here, even if there is a vacuum in leadership,” she says. It is this void the 48-year old believes she can fill if elected on an Aam Admi Party ticket from Khunti, from where BJP’s sitting MP Kariya Munda has been elected seven times.

Before Nagri, she had led a movement against Koel Karo dam in Torpa in Khunti where she was born in a Munda tribal household. From 1995 onwards, Dayamani, then 29 and working as an independent journalist with Jan Haq Patrika, organized tribal villagers in their struggle against the dam that would displace over 53,000. The resistance continued despite eight villagers dying in police firing in 2000. She received death threats when she travelled across four districts in Jharkhand between 2006-2010, organizing villagers opposed to giving up their farmland for Arcelor Mittal’s steel plant over 11,000 acres. She led them citing the Chotanagpur Tenancy Act, enacted in 1908 after the Birsa movement, which prohibits sale of tribal land to non-tribals in this area. “Why should we settle for “compensation” when we should be co-owners?” she raised the question at the core of crushing disparities in mineral-rich Jharkhand, while addressing farmers in Bokaro who enforced an “economic blockade” against Electrosteel Casting Limited’s steel plant last September. The speech she gave at Bokaro resulted in a FIR against her.

When not traveling in villages, Dayamani can be found in the tea-shop she runs with her husband Nelson near Ranchi’s Sujata Chowk to support her public work. Photographs of Jharkhandi intellectuals such as academic Dr Ram Dayal Munda, and photos she has taken of paddy fields, festivals in villages adorn the walls. Sometimes she uses this space for her work appointments, discussions too. Her full-throated laughter rings in the middle of conversations.

“Dayamani does things at her own pace,” smiles her close friend film-maker Shri Prakash. “She is alert, sincere, and strong; she has achieved which few people could,” says Dr BP Keshri who retired as the Head of Ranchi University’s Tribal and Regional Languages Department. On an impulse Dayamani trails off to pick a jharoo – AAP’s election symbol – from the floor of a hut nearby before beginning her election speech in Ghorpenda village, or makes a piercing comment about how urban Ranchi perceives here, where the bureaucracy is dominated by the lighter-skinned. “When I go to government offices, sometimes peons ask rudely, what do you want, why are you here. There have been instances when I have waited outside offices for long and watched their reactions change when I say my name is Dayamani Barla and this is why I am here,” she says.

There is a lot Dayamani’s childhood taught her to steel up against. She watched her parents lose their land when she was nine to a businessman, after signing on documents they could not read. While they began working as domestic servants in Ranchi, she and her brother studied in their village in Arhara feeding themselves. At 13, she too moved to Ranchi, living in a shed with cattle, cleaning utensils and eating leftovers working at the Ranchi police barracks. She cleaned utensils in a household till her employer tried to sexually assault her one day. “I was 15. I do not know from where I found the strength from to throw that man off and escape. I left the work at the family’s house, and supported myself learning typing in Hindi, English till I enrolled in M.Com. at Ranchi University,” recounts Dayamani. She briefly worked at a NGO but left it when she found the organization made little attempt to account for funds got for public purpose. She soon started contributing articles to the newspaper Prabhat Khabhar. In 1995 she had set up the tea-shop. Her livelihood assured, she immersed herself in the Koel Karo movement. “She know what it is to be poor, and the poor’s problems. She believes if you have been given buddhi, social consciousness, it is meant to be passed on,” says her childhood friend and husband Nelson.
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At Jabra village, Dayamani takes time to slowly build the conversation about her election campaign with the tribal villagers who have brought their own mats to sit on to listen to her speak. “What is it that we are fighting for? How should do we take this campaign forward” she asks the villagers and listens as the group slowly comes to consensus. By the end, more than 60 villagers gathered here have decide to contribute 2 kg rice and Rs 50 each to her campaign. At Ludru, where villagers have erected a megalith to inscribe Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas (PESA) Act 1996 rules governing use of community resources in the village, she asks whether these norms are really effective, if the village has reached what its idea of poorna swaraj. “Sometimes I act radical with a reason, at other times I wonder if I am being firm or stubborn,” she muses on her way back to Ranchi, 40 km away.

On the evening before her nomination, Dayamani visits a Birsait village, where Birsa Munda followers, who avoid meat, alcohol and food from outside and wear only white, live. After listening to her, Jagai Aba, an old man in white dhoti and gamcha listens to her speak about her campaign. Then softly, he warns her: “The party (Maoists and Poeple’s Liberation Front of India, a Maoist splinter group) will try to decide whom the village votes for. There is danger and you should stay away from the forest.” In turn, Dayamani invokes an annual rite the Birsait perform in Singhbhum’s forests where they declare the forest to be sacred. “Mango, mahua, sal trees; bears, tigers, scorpions – everything is in its place, is it not,” she says. “Now is the time to save them.”

An edited version appeared in The Hindu.

Lok Sabha Hazaribagh: The royal, the dynast, and the trade unionist

BJP candidate Jayant Sinha, Yashwant Sinha's son, at Banadag village outside Hazaribagh town. Photo by manob Chowdhury

BJP candidate Jayant Sinha, Yashwant Sinha’s son, at Banadag village outside Hazaribagh town. Photo by Manob Chowdhury

In 2009, former finance minister BJP’s Yashwant Sinha had won from Hazaribagh constituency in central Jharkhand reversing his defeat in the 2004 elections by CPI’s Bhuvneshwar Prasad Mehta, a coal workers’ union leader. This time, the BJP, a trenchant critic of the Congress’ dynastic politics, has given the ticket to Mr Sinha’s investment entrepreneur-turned-politician son Jayant Sinha.
Among Sinha’s rivals is another dynast, a royal, the sitting MLA from Congress Saurabh Narayan Singh who is the grandson of the former king “Ramgarh Raja” Kamakhya Narain Singh, and CPI’s Mehta, now 74. Also among the candidates, is three time-BJP MLA Lok Nath Mahto, who switched from BJP to Sudesh Mahto-led All Jharkhand Students’ Union (AJSU) a few weeks before the elections.

Ask who will win this time from Hazaribagh, and invariably there is a reference to a large meeting of the OBCs Mahtos last December. The community makes up a significant section of the electorate in this old coal mining zone of the two districts Hazaribagh and Ramgarh. More than two lakh participated in this Mahto samaj meeting, he who attracts the combined vote of the Koeri Mahto – marginal farmers – and Kurmi Mahto – richer agriculturalists who migrated from Bihar – will lead this contest, claim most observers. While CPI’s Mehta is a Koeri, that Lok Nath Mahto is a Koeri and has the overt backing of AJSU MLA from Ramgarh Chandraprakash Chaudhary, a Kurmi, is seen in his favour. His previous work in BJP and OBC community links both may undermine BJP here, say observers.

While Yashwant Sinha had won with a third of the over 6.9 lakhs votes polled in the last elections, most party leaders and voters criticise his record as MP for having remained “inaccessible”, or “absent.” “BJP workers, whether on their own or on being prompted sent 2,800 letters to central leadership criticising Yashwant and then he was replaced by his son,” says a state BJP leader.

In Hazaribagh town, there are a few signs of his presence besides a billboard from last December crediting the arrival of a new railway line to Sinha. The announcement of his son, Jayant, 50, an IIT Delhi and Harvard Business School alumnus who worked with investment firm Omidyar Network till December 2013, too set off a mixed reaction. Most voters say they have not seen or heard of him. Some BJP supporters say a “change of face” may help, others claim former BJP MP from Hazaribagh Yadunath Pandey would have attracted more votes.

At 11 am, when BJP’s Jayant Sinha preceded by a vehicle with a loudspeaker reaches Banadag village, 8 km from the town, dressed in white kurta pyjama over sneakers, he invokes caste but to argue against it. Instead he invokes Gujarat’s model of development, and frequently refers to his father’s tenure as MP. Speaking in Hindi, he slips up crediting Yashwant Sinha as a “dabbang MP” (a muscleman) for bringing a Rs 3000-crore railway line to Hazaribagh. “Gujarat has 24-hours power and good roads and ambulance services, I will ensure the same here. For BPL, pension beneficiaries sisters, we promise an online database that will allow a direct benefits transfer to bank accounts”, he promised, adding that the latter was a project he worked on as part of Narendra Modi’s IT team in Gujarat.

CPI's Bhuvneshwar Prasad Mehta (in dhoti) in Badkagaon, 27 km from Hazaribagh. Photo by Manob Chowdhury

CPI’s Bhuneshwar Prasad Mehta (in dhoti) in Badkagaon, 27 km from Hazaribagh. Photo by Manob Chowdhury

In Badkagaon, 27 km away, CPI’s Bhuvneshwar Prasad Mehta, whom his supporters describe as a “zameeni neta,” finalized details of a public meeting scheduled on Sunday over tea with CPI cadre. Mehta who worked as a trade union leader among coal miners, defeated the former Queen of Ramgarh in 1980 and first became MP in 1991 defeating BJP’s Yadunath Pandey. He rattles off a list of 27 villages nearby where farmland is marked for acquisition for coal-blocks, and talks to several villagers addressing them by their first name. “Our cadre and groundwork will bring him back,” says Chottu Thakur, CPI member. “We have voted for him before, what did he change?” says Abdul Karim, a farmer in a Chaupdar Baliya village.
With Mahto and OBC vote split between BJP, AJSU, and even CPI, it is Congress’ MLA Singh, the king’s descendant and Hazaribagh MLA, who may make off with the largest chunk of votes, speculates another observer.


2009:
1. Yashwant Sinha, BJP – 31 percent votes
2. Saurabh Narayan Singh, INC – 26 percent
3. Bhuvneshwar Prasad Mehta, CPI and Shivlal Mahto, JMM – 7 percent

2004:
1. Bhuvneshwar Prasad Mehta, CPI – 50.4 percent votes
2. Yashwant Sinha, BJP – 35.5 percent
3. Chandraprakash Chaudhary, AJSU – 5.2 percent

This report appeared in The Hindu here.

Jharkhand SPOs and their families under attack from Maoists

In response to a Public Interest Litigation, in July 2011, the Supreme Court while asking the State to disband the Salwa Judum, ordered the Chhattisgarh government to desist from using SPOs in countering the Maoists. Following the July order, the recruitment of SPOs in Jharkhand too was briefly paused, but resumed after a Bench of Justices Altamas Kabir and SS Nijjar in November said the July order applied only to Chhattisgarh, not to other States. Jharkhand has a sanctioned strength of 6,400 SPOs, though senior police officials put the current number at 3,000. Police officials cite the State Police Acts to justify use of SPOs.

A squad of CPI(Maoist) on March 21 night opened fire at a social gathering in Khunti, 30 km from Ranchi injuring two villagers and set fire to a jeep. The tribal villagers said they suspected the rebels targeted the family and friends of Raila Dhingra Munda for his work as a Special Police Officer (SPO) gathering intelligence for the Khunti district police. Before this, Mohammad Sajjad, a 30-year old SPO had lost his right leg while assisting Assistant Superintendent of Police (Operations), R.S. Mishra defuse an Improvised Explosive Device in Chatra last week.

Mara Munda, 20, whose older brother Raila is a Special Police Officer (SPO) in Khunti and his father Sande Munda after Mara was treated for a bullet injury at RIMS hospital on Saturday. Photo by Manob Chowdhury.

Mara Munda, 20, whose older brother Raila is a Special Police Officer (SPO) in Khunti and his father Sande Munda after Mara was treated for a bullet injury at RIMS hospital on Saturday. Photo by Manob Chowdhury.

On Saturday, Mara Munda, Raila’s younger brother who had been shot in his right thigh and had fractured his bone lay in Rajendra Institute of Medical Institute, Ranchi’s orthopedic intensive care ward.
“We had invited more than 400 villagers to celebrate the “kaan chhedni” (ear piercing) ceremonies of both my sisters. At 8 30 pm I stepped out of our courtyard and heard a gun-shot. The next moment I had fallen. There was panic as everyone tried to flee, I cried out for my friends to pull my body inside the house or I would have died,” recounted the 20-year old with effort as his father Sande Munda who spoke only in Mundari looked on.

The Maoists had killed his oldest brother Rupu Munda who also worked as a SPO in a market in Adki in 2010, he said. He said the rebels numbered around sixty, and after shooting at him and his neighbour Birsa Munda, 40, in their legs, they had set fire to a Tata Magic jeep that Mara had started been renting to ferry passengers from the village to Khunti town since four months back. “They set fire to the soundbox (speakers) too before they left,” he said.
Mara’s older brother Raila, who works as a SPO, was away in Khunti when the incident happened. The family’s neighbours first brought the injured to Khunti Sadar Hospital, and then to Ranchi in the morning.

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Villagers in Hembrom in Adki block said the police had not even visited the village since Friday night, going no further than a concrete road 500 meters from the village. District police officials said the investigations were on.“Our search operations are on for the Maoists,” said Khunti’s Superintendent of Police Anish Gupta.

Raila Munda, Mara’s brother said he had started working as a SPO in 2008. “I finished matric exams and started working for the police because the Maoists had terrorized our entire village, coercing us. The police officers, the previous Sps Manoj Kaushik, Tamilvanan paid me Rs 3000 or so every three months for information. The Maoists killed my older brother in 2010 and now they did this while searching for me, and the police did nnot even visit my house yet,” said Raila Munda on the phone from Khunti.

Since 2010, Maoists have killed at least 16 persons in Adki and Tamar in Khunti and the adjoining area Bundu in Ranchi targeting them for acting as SPOs for the police.
This report in The Hindu here.

A previous post on Maoists’ violence against SPOs and their families in Khunti here.

Firayalal shaam

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When I reached the control room, Upadhayayji (from Special Branch) was the first to have arrived. He put his phone down, ending a conversation with, “So, it was full of clothes, was it?” he chuckled. When I enquired what had happened, he said the bomb squad had been called in Lower Bazaar. “A black bag with wheels had been found”, he told me, “One of those bags with wheels, a trolley bag? All afternoon, there was alarm.” No one knew who had left the bag, and it could be a bomb.
The bomb squad arrived, and found the bag stuffed with clothes. Someone must have stolen the bag with a lot of hope, Upadhayaji speculated, and it turned out to have merely clothes!
“Have you heard of Kaka Hathrasi, of ‘Transistor Bomb’?” he continued, laughing. And then he recited this poem, he said he had first read in 1970: 

“Transistor bomb par likhi ghatna ek sunaayein,
agar mile koi cheez toh usse hargiz nahi uthaayein.

Hargiz nahi uthaaye, hamara Ullu bola
Bus aade pe chhuuth gaya Kaki ka jhola

Kaka pahunche bus aade pe lekar asha
dangh reh gaye wahan ka gajab tamasha!

Bheerh darshakon ki lagi, “bomb! bomb!” ka shor
kharha hua police dal iss jhole ke chahun aur!
Jhole ke chanhu aur, kissi ne nahi tatola
Visfoton ke visheshagya ne jhola khola.

Jhola le thane chale InspectorBhagwan
jaanch wahin pe karenge, tab chorhe saamaan
Tab chorhe saamaan, chale jhola sang aise
Gaaya chale karti bachde ke peechche jaise

keh Kaka unka shaq nikla thotha-chchichchla
Saare baingan kaat diye bomb ek na nikla!

Jhola le kar ghar chale prasanntaa ke saath
Kaki bhi gadgad hui, daala jhole mein haath
daala usme haath ek dam uchchli aise,
maar diya ho dank kissi bichchu ne jaise

“Buddhi ho gayi brashtha tumhari, sathiyaayein ho?
Kati-phati sabzi le kar ghar aaye ho?!”
Haath jode, hum ne kaha, mat kijiye aakrosh,
sabzi kaati police ne! nahi hamara dosh!

Baingan kat teh samay agar ho jaata dhamaka
roti rehti aap, jail mein rehte Kaka!”

One of the very few people I have met who seems to be able to recollect, recite an entire poem (:)
The activists, journalists gang arrived at the chowk soon after, beginning long gupp about election, AAP, friction among vaampanti dal, Advani, aur Chirag Paswan.

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