The Jehanabad Jailbreak

Part of Long ‘Mowist’ March


Soroor Ahmed

The author is a Patna based senior journalist.

Chairman Mao Tse Tung died 29 years back at the ripe age of 83 in China. But he is alive in the farmland, forests and hills of a large part of India, the country which his army invaded in October-November 1962. The Long March which the late leader undertook to overthrow Chiang Kai Shek led the Kuomintang regime in October 1949 has been continuing ever since then. In late 1960s Maoists of Indian origin emerged in Naxalbari subdivision of Darjeeling district of West Bengal on way to storm Kolkata. The other group organized itself secretly in Burdwan district of the same state. After a few years of repression they dispersed and got divided into several groups and factions. Some even became revisionists, while some other joined mainstream political parties. Incidentally they always held the Indian government as aggressor in 1962.

However, after being crushed in West Bengal some of them who survived sneaked into neighbouring Bihar where after keeping a low profile for a few years they emerged strongly once again. Agrarian Bihar provided a happy hunting ground to them. The caste divide and the feudal mindset of the upper caste farmers help them consolidate first in Central Bihar and then elsewhere. The jungles and hills of South Bihar, which now forms Jharkhand, gave them hideouts to take shelter. Once they ensconced themselves they spread their tentacles to East Madhya Pradesh, now Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh and east Uttar Pradesh––all these places where the rural condition is almost identical.
The topography of the whole rain-starved plateauregion also suited them.

But by the end of the last century the Himalayan Kingdom of Nepal became the major beneficiary of
neighbouring China’s benevolence. The political vacuum in that country, poverty and monarchy are to be blamed for their growth. Thus a corridor from Kathmandu to Karimnagar in Andhra Pradesh and further down south was formed, where they virtually ruled the roost. Perhaps seldom in the history the leader of an enemy nation has been admired––China in Mao’s days was never friendly towards India––so much in an alien land as he. There are many outfits named after him. The most well known among them is the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC), which had been active in the region and which
specializes in literally mowing down their enemies. A couple of years back the MCC merged with the Peoples War, another Maoist outfit quite active in Andhra Pradesh and other south and central Indian states. The new united party is now called the CPI (Maoist). However, there are several other Naxal organizations quite active in the region. They all have CPI ML sounding names. In fact the CPI ML was once the main outfit founded by Charu Mazumdar and company. The name Naxalite was derived from, as mentioned above, Naxalbari subdivision of Darjeeling district. This is the place where they first organized in 1960s.

Arguably the biggest Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) faction is called CPI ML (Liberation), which in December 1992 decided to go overground. In fact it first floated its open organization called the Indian Peoples Front in 1980s to test the political water. One of the IPF candidates even won the 1989 parliamentary election from Ara in 1989––the election which brought V P Singh to power.
Then its leader was (now late) Vinod Mishra, who was once the student of Durgapur Engineering College (West Bengal). Now the CPI ML (Liberation) is headed by Dipankar Bhattarcharya, who originally hails from Assam, and was the students of Statistics. This organization is active in Bihar, West Bengal and Assam and in the February 2004 assembly election of Bihar it also won seven seats.

The advent of Lalu Yadav and subsequent Mandalisation of politics in early 1990s gave a set back to the CPI ML (Liberation) as several of its backward caste leaders even crossed over to join the ruling party. This was unexpected for the disciplined cadre-based party like CPI-ML. But then Lalu had the credit of splitting other cadre based party, the BJP in early 1990s, too . However, the CPI ML (Liberation) gradually regained some of its lost ground.

But the other CPI ML outfits either sank into oblivion or were systematically obliterated. The most dreaded ultra Left outfit now left in the field is CPI (Maoist) still called MCC in Bihar and Jharkhand and Peoples War elsewhere.

Unlike the CPI ML (Liberation), which now believes in the electoral politics, the Maoists always call for
the overthrow of the present regime. They are most ruthless in their approach and still have faith in
“First Destruction Then Construction” philosophy. Chairman Mao’s saying that “Power flows out of the
barrel of a gun” is still dear and is followed strictly by them.

They do not have any faith in the developmental work undertaken by the government. Instead they will blow up roads and bridges build in their area of influence. They will abduct or kill the engineers or contractors engaged in these work as they think that the purpose of these government infrastructure is not to the betterment of the people but their repression.

Chairman Mao believed in the philosophy “Let villages encircle cities.” He was of the view that “village is the strong point of the revolution and that work in the villages should play the main role in Chinese revolutionary movement and work in the town an auxiliary role.” The Maoist adopted the same strategy. It is their sketchy presence in the cities and towns which confused many urban-centric analysts and journalists from assessing their real strength.

Unlike the main CPI ML faction the MCC was not formed in Naxalbari, but further south in Burdwan district of West Bengal. It was established in 1966 and was not very active initially. It emerged as powerful group in Bihar in mid-1980s. Among its earliest large scale action was the killing of 54 Rajputs in Dalechak-Bhagaura village of Aurangabad district of Bihar. Both the MCC and Peoples War are highly secretive outfits and in the earlier years hardly anything was known about their leaders. However, it is said that the MCC was formed by Kanhia Chatterjee and others.

But the ultra Left outfits in Bihar, unlike in Andhra Pradesh and other states, faced a slightly different
type of challenge. They have not only to fight the state machinery, which ultimately proved very weak before them, but also the upper caste feudal elements. The landed castes too were quick to form their own private armies such as Sunlight Sena, Lorik Sena, Ganga Sena, Brahmarishi Sena, Ranvir Sena etc. This phenomenon started in the late 1970s. Unable to match the firepower of the Left extremists these private armies of the landed castes started targeting unarmed Dalits, especially their women and children.

While the MCC made it a point never to slaughter women and children––if they accidentally kill somebody in any operation they would later apologize through leaflets––the upper caste outfits would justify the killing of weak and infirm. For example after the infamous Shankarbigha (in Jehanabad) massacre of 24 Dalits women and children on January 25, 1999 (that is on the eve of Republic Day) they issued a Press Release to the newspapers. They justified the killing of pregnant women and children stating that “samp ka bacha samp hoga” (Snake will breed snake). They think that all the Dalits are the supporters of one Left extremist outfit or the other. The Press Release also claimed that they had chosen January 25 evening to butcher them as the Dalit President of the country
(Late K R Narayanan was then the President) opposed the dismissal of the Rabri government and the
imposition of President Rule in September 1998). At the time the Ranvir Sena men were killing the women and children on that evening President Narayanan was delivering his Republic Day eve speech on Radio and Television.

In other states where the Left extremists are active one never witnessed the formation of the caste armies even though the Naxals indulged in several high profile killing there. In Andhra Pradesh they even managed to kill the then chief minister, Chanra Babu Naidu’s close relative, a senior police official. They even once made an attempt on his life.

In Jharkhand and Andhra Pradesh they killed more policemen then in Bihar. Jharkhand was created on
November 15, 2000 and in the last five years about 300 policemen have lost their lives, second only to Jammu and Kashmir. As there is a lot of coal mines and an explosive factory in Jharkhand the extremists get a lot of dynamite, which they use to trigger blasts and kill policemen to loot their arms. They have in this period enforced about 200 days of bandh in the new state. Now they have adopted similar strategy in Orissa and Chhattisgarh also. The jungles and hills in these states provided them good bases.

But in the plains of Bihar the scene is somewhat different. Since there is less scope of other economic activities in this state the landed castes, especially Bhumihars who formed Ranvir Sena in mid-1990s, got locked in a do or die battle with the ultras. Here the Left extremists concentrated more on attacking the feudal and exploited class and slightly less on the state machinery. The topography too does not help them in attacking police. But it is not that they have never attacked police or state machinery in Bihar.

The two hours long take over of Jehanabad town by over 1,000 strong well armed CPI (Maoists) activists on November 13 night was an action unheard of anywhere in the extremists affected region of the country. Stray guerrilla type attack on police picket or remote villages is always possible. But a daring attack in the center of the power of district––the offices of district magistrate, superintendent of police, jail, police line were all situated side by side––came as rude shock. Jehanabad went to poll only on October 26 and assembly election in the assembly segments in its vicinity in neighbouring Nalanda and Patna district was due on November 19. How could such a strong mob gather and come from the Patna-Gaya National Highway, which is dotted by villages.

The district authorities indirectly held the Election Commission responsible for such an unprecedented
incident alleging that only 40 per cent of police force was left in the district––the rest were sent in
poll duty in other parts of the state.

The extremists struck at Jehanabad within 48 hours after attacking a police ammunition depot in Giridih district in neighbouring Jharkhand. If in Jehanabad they managed to set free 341 of their prisons lodged in the jail and kill several Ranvir Sena men and cops, in a similar operation in Giridih they killed seven policemen and decamped with 185 rifles and 2,000 rounds of ammunition. A similar attack on the ammunition center was made by the extremists in Orissa last year, whre too they looted hundreds of guns.

Conducting election for one day is a different ball game but maintaining overall peace different.
Incidentally all these happened in the state which is under President Rule and where, after Kashmir maximum number of central para military forces are deployed (true they were not in Jehanabad on that night) for conducting election. The Zonal Inspector General of Police was A S Nimbran, the author of a book on the Naxal movement. But perhaps even his experience was not taken into account as much more emphasis was given to the conduct of election.

The Jehanabad incident has opened a new debate, that is, over the way the central government and the state dispensation surrendered before the Election Commission. How can the Election Commission withdraw police from the sensitive districts simply because certain Mr K J Rao wanted it. What was the Union home ministry, its officials and the intelligence doing. Simply making the district magistrate and superintendent of police would not solve the problem.

Like China––where most people have now forgotten Mao’s philosophy––the Maoist will not succeed in
overthrowing the government here but if the government machinery continues to function in such a way they may certainly succeed in creating chaos and anarchy.




Soroor Ahmed has written a nice and comprehensive article and i really would like to appreciate and thank him for it.he gives a very good perspective of scene to understand the current scenario of leftist movement in eastern india especially bihar and jharkhand.but i felt bad about his concluding paragraphs where he tried to held mr rao responsible for this distrurbing happening in jehanabad. mr Rao needs to be applauded and appreciated not be rediculed, especially by such good jouranalist as mr ahmed.we do need to praise and recognize those people who have tried to instill some faith in system in the mind of common people.
R Ravi Truro, UK