Special Feature


The shaping of a police raj

Social shifts in Jharkhand

If the formation of the new state drastically altered the political balance in Jharkhand, there were also significant social shifts during the first hundred days of the Marandi government. Among non-Congress opposition parties, the RJD’s social base is undergoing maximum disorientation because the party doesn’t count much in the new state. The Muslims and certain backward castes are leaning towards locally powerful political forces, including the CPI(ML), who can take on the BJP. JMM, the main opposition party, is yet to fully recover from its disarray and disappointment at Sibhu Soren not becoming the chief minister. Because of its inability to give political expression to the volatile popular disenchantment there is some alienation in its social base too. In the left camp, the CPI(M) never had a significant presence in Jharkhand and even after Laloo Prasad had gone back on his opposition to bifurcation of Bihar, it remained opposed to the formation of Jharkhand. The CPI, despite having two MLAs and some pockets of sizable presence, is not known for any movemental vitality. Anarchist outfits like the MCC and PWG are for the first time facing a hostile administration, but given their very nature, are unable to mobilise the masses against state terror let loose by the Marandi government. CPI(ML), with its effective role inside the Assembly as well as in mass political movements outside, has been able to enhance its political profile in the new situation. It has been able to establish itself as the most militant and vibrant force of opposition to the Marandi government within a short period of 100 days.

Sensing its growing unpopularity, especially among tribal people, the BJP has deployed Salkhan Murmu, a Jharkhandi leader and BJP MP from Mayurbanj constituency of Orissa, to disorient the adivasi anger. Murmu has since come up with a demand for 60% reservation for tribals. Through him it is trying to regain its slipping hold on tribals who are indignant at a series of police atrocities against them under the new dispensation. Secondly, the government has announced a “rehabilitation package” for people surrendering from MCC and PWG and is trying to utilise them – in the same fashion as in Assam, Punjab and Kashmir -- against the mass left democratic movement. Extremists surrendering with weapons will get varying rewards. The experience of counter-insurgency operations shows that this game of surrender is actually a clever way of creating a legal killer squad to be used at the behest of the state. Thirdly, it is desperately trying to communalise the polity of Jharkhand by giving full play to the Sangh Parivar outfits. Fourthly, it is preparing for panchayat elections, to extend its network of powerbrokers and local vested interests at the grassroots.

The CPI(ML) is also gearing up for an effective intervention in the panchayat elections to be held in June and to consolidate and build upon its recent gains through intensified struggles of different sections at the grassroots, especially the rural poor and industrial workers.

Immediately in the wake of Babulal Marandi assuming office in Jharkhand, the Union Home Minister Advani declared that the principal agenda of the first government in the newly formed state would be to combat left-wing extremism and break its backbone. It was a different matter, though, that the venue of the oath-taking ceremony of the new government on 15 November had to be hurriedly shifted from the open grounds to a tight-security closed-door auditorium due to fear of the naxalite threat! The saffron brigade however remained true to its commitment by appointing Prabhat Kumar as governor, rewarding the loyal bureaucratic stooge for his acquiescence as chief secretary in Uttar Pradesh during the Babri Masjid demolition. But there was no euphoria in Jharkhand over the new government. The response among the tribals was lukewarm.

Right from the early days, the CPI(ML) started building up spirited resistance against the authoritarian and anti-people measures of the new government. On 30 November, it organised the Nav Nirman Rally to set a radical vision and programme for the new Jharkhand. More than 30,000 people marched in Ranchi in a massive show. The Party GS, Comrade Dipankar Bhattacharya gave a call for a bandh on December 6, 2000 demanding removal of Prabhat Kumar as governor. The JMM and all other opposition forces barring Congress supported the bandh. The bandh was a grand success. Thousands of youth came on to the streets in support of the bandh, defying RSS goondas.

From thereon the CPI(ML) went on to protest each and every manifestation of police highhandedness in the state. Meanwhile the new government set a record of sorts in police firings within the first 100 days. Marandi government appeared to be more like a government assuming office under serious civil strife conditions rather than a new government coming to power following a protracted movement for the formation of a new state. The new but shaky saffron rulers, precariously perched on the seat of power with a wafer thin majority, got their priorities straight, as advised by Advani: establishing a police state. The police machinery got the message and turned trigger-happy. Let us cite a few instances:

Doranda firing: Four Muslim youth were killed in an unprovoked police firing right in the middle of Ranchi town on 28 December 2000, the very day of Id festival. Thousands of people had spontaneously gathered to protest the killing of a 5-year old Muslim girl who was run over by a BMP vehicle that morning. They were only demanding immediate arrest of the culprits and compensation for the killing. There was nothing communal about the demands. The administration failed to act. But the police, led by DSP, UC Jha and SDO, Sunil Singh ordered firing on the protesters, killing four. Thousands more came on to the streets to intensify the protest, angered by the police highhandedness, that had marred the festive mood of Id. Marandi government started communalising the situation by blaming Muslims and imposing curfew in selected Muslim localities. RSS was allowed to take out a procession with the dead body of DSP, UC Jha, killed in clashes with the protesters, and raise communal slogans. At the same time, the CRPF-RAF virtually let loose a reign of terror against Muslims, arresting a large number of youth and harassing them throughout the night. The CPI(ML) promptly called for a bandh again, which was supported by other opposition parties.

Kurpania episode: Amidst an atmosphere of sporadic attacks on churches and Christian missionaries in Jharkhand, a nun who was a teacher in a girls school in Kurpania area of Bokaro, was brutally raped by a gang of anti-socials. CPI(ML) and AIPWA launched a strong protest against this barbaric act. Tribal students protesting in Ranchi against this heinous act were brutally lathicharged by the police.

Killing of a poor dhobi: In Sector-8 of Bokaro Steel City, Joyram Rajak, a poor dhobi, was killed at 12 noon by police on 22 January 2001. The pretext was that he had consumed liquor and raised noise against one of his neighbours. While the administration was trying to hush up the incident and dispose of the body without postmortem the next morning, workers led by the CPI(ML) intervened and raised a strong voice of protest. Ultimately, the district administration was forced to suspend the 3 police officers and file criminal cases against them under Section 304 IPC.

Topkara turned into a graveyard for tribals: Topkara in Torpe block of Ranchi district has been the hotbed of the Koel Karo movement for the last 20 years. The movement was against the building of a dam and hydel project that would displace thousands of tribals. When the new government of Marandi declared that they would go ahead with the Koel Karo project, it gave a new impetus to the movement. A chain of barricades was erected by the tribal people on the Topkara-Torpa road to obstruct movement of project officials. After a few days the CRPF-RAF was engaged to break the barricades, and they manhandled the tribal activists who resisted this. Protesting against police highhandedness, Koel Karo Jana Sangathan mobilised thousands of tribal people to gherao Topkara O.P. on 2 January 2001. Instead of going for a dialogue with the protesters, the trigger-happy police resorted to unprovoked firing killing 8 tribals and injuring many. This incident shocked the Jharkhandi people and a series of protests ensued which culminated in a bandh on 5 February, 2001 sponsored by the CPI(ML) and other opposition parties.

Marandi rigs his way to victory in the Ramgarh by-election: Babulal Marandi contested the Ramgarh by-election after the seat fell vacant due to the death of a CPI MLA. Misuse of the administrative machinery by the Chief Minister started right from the beginning. It crossed all limits on the election day. After 2 p.m., all booths were captured by CRPF-RAF and mafia gangs associated with the Sangh Parivar. CPI, CPI(ML) and JMM organised a powerful protest against this subversion of democracy, and the day after the election, thousands of people came out to block traffic on both the national highways connecting Ranchi and Bokaro. On 21 February, a Jharkhand bandh was called by the united opposition.

In all the above cases the Marandi government solidly stood by the guilty police officials and refused action against them. It invoked one pretext or the other and came up with conspiracy theories to justify the police terror. In the case of the Doranda firing, the death of the DSP was attributed to a mysterious, lungi-clad ISI agent. In Kurparia case, the administration denied rape by doctoring the medical report, even though the main accused had accepted the charge of rape. In Bokaro the police initially spread the story that an extremist had been killed. In the case of Topkara, a story of a timber mafia provoking the tribals was concocted.

In addition, Semri-banjari village of Garwah district witnessed the massacre of 7 dalits by the police. Police claimed that it was an encounter with PWG squads. The CPI(ML) sent an investigation team to the village and brought out the fact that the incident was not an encounter but a case of cold-blooded killing of innocent villagers. The CPI(ML) organised protests against this massacre too.


From Assembly Gherao to Save Deocracy March

--CPI(ML) leads waves of resistance


The first budget session of the Jharkhand Assembly started on 27 February, 2001. On 1 March, CPI(ML) organised an Assembly gherao on the issues of instituting judicial enquiry into the recent incidents of police firing, filing criminal cases against guilty police officials, immediate scrapping of the Koel Karo project, effective steps in the Ranchi land scam case and safeguarding tribals from land alienation etc. The 3000-strong march led by CPI(ML) General Secretary Comrade Dipankar Bhattacharya started from the Hatia station towards the Assembly. When the march reached the newly built barricade at Birsa Chowk, the CRPF-RAF resorted to brutal lathicharge, wild teargassing and firing with rubber bullets. The masses also tried to build resistance in defence and beat back the onslaught of the police on a peaceful demonstration with whatever was available to them, including stones. In the course of this tussle, Comrade Dipankar and 40 others were arrested. After long harassment they were produced before a magistrate and sent to jail at 5 a.m., and 6 comrades including Comrade Dipankar Bhattacharya were booked under several non-bailable sections.

Before the clash in Birsa Chowk, a batch of 100 Party activists managed to reach the entrance of the Assembly and raised slogans against the government. The bewildered police soon swooped down on them, and arrested them after a severe lathicharge. The CPI(ML) MLA, Mahendra Prasad Singh, along with other opposition MLAs, synchronised their march to the well of the House and slogan-shouting inside the Assembly on the same demands with the Assembly gherao outside.

Soon, upon hearing about the brutal lathicharge at Birsa Chowk, Comrade Mahendra Prasad Singh along with other opposition leaders belonging to the JMM, CPI and RJD, rushed to the spot. The CRPF-RAF were so mad that they resorted to lathicharge even on the Opposition MLAs, specially targeting Mahendra Prasad Singh. Returning from the spot, the Opposition MLAs decided to boycott the proceedings during the second half of the session and the entire Opposition sat on a dharna in front of the Assembly at 2 p.m. They were raising slogans against police brutality against CPI(ML) workers and Opposition MLAs and demanding action against the guilty officials. They also flatly rejected the proposal of the Speaker for negotiations. Finally, the Marandi government agreed to an all-party enquiry into the incident at Birsa Chowk.

Meanwhile, the administration refused to disclose the place where the arrested persons, including Comrade Dipankar Bhattacharya, had been kept. Rather, the administration was misleading everybody in different ways. It was only when Comrade Mahendra Singh sought clarification in the Assembly about the whereabouts of the arrested persons, that the government admitted that they were in Jagannathpur PS. Again, a group of Opposition MLAs rushed to the Jagannathpur PS. But the city SP behaved with them rudely and refused to show them the FIR on the arrested comrades. This was raised as a privilege issue against the officials inside the Assembly, and under strong protest the complaint was referred to the privilege committee.

Following the March 1 crackdown, a road blockade was organised throughout Jharkhand the very next day. The Rajdhani Express was blocked for four hours on the Grand-Chord line. The Grand Trunk road and the Patna-Ranchi Highway were blocked at several points. This was synchronised with nationwide protests in different forms. The All-India Kisan Convention at Faizabad, which had been convened by the CPI(ML), strongly condemned the crackdown by the Marandi government and the arrest of Comrade Dipankar. Prominent leaders like VP Singh, former Prime Minister, Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat and Suneelam, MLA from Madhya Pradesh who addressed the convention unequivocally condemned the arrest and demanded unconditional release of Comrade Dipankar.

To resist the repressive and vindictive attitude of the Marandi government towards the CPI(ML) and to challenge its attempt to muffle the voice of democratic protest, it was decided to launch a continuous sit-in. An indefinite dharna was started from 3 March at Elbert Ekka Chak of Ranchi. This dharna became the focal point of a powerful mass exposure campaign through solidarity speeches, cultural programmes and poster exhibitions. Different leaders and activists of left and democratic background came to address the dharna and register their voice of protest and express solidarity. Several prominent personalities participated in the dharna and other forms of protest. Medha Patkar, leader of the Narmada Bachao Andolan, Prabhash Joshi, former editor of Jansatta and a vigorous camapigner against globalisation, SM Daud, former Chief Justice of Bombay High Court, who had come to Ranchi to attend a convention by INSAF, participated in the dharna. Medha Patkar and several other activists also visited the jail and met Comrade Dipankar. The media in Jharkhand also started focusing on the growing undemocratic acts of the Marandi government. On 5 March, senior Polit Bureau member of CPI(ML), Comrade Swadesh Bhattacharya declared at a press conference in Ranchi another nationwide protest on 7 March and warned the Marandi government that if Comrade Dipankar was not released unconditionally the Party would organise a mammoth Ranchi march on 14 March.


the face of growing pressure on the Marandi government, the District Sessions Judge issued bail orders for Comrade Dipankar and other comrades. Ironically, the advocate of the state government admitted before the court that it was basically a “political case” and the state government had no objection to issuing bail. On the evening of 7 March, Comrade Dipankar and other activists were released and they reached the dharna spot in a procession. In a brief speech before hundreds of people, Comrade Dipankar said that the recent events had revealed that the people and the powers that be are locked in an open confrontation and CPI(ML) was only playing an instrumental role in channelising the popular anger into a broad democratic movement. The CPI(ML) would never swerve from this path, no matter how severe a wrath it had to face from the undemocratic government. He also congratulated the wide cross-section of people and the media for supporting the cause of democracy in Jharkhand. Comrade Dipankar also said that his release didn’t mean the end of the struggle but that the Party would continue to champion the aspirations of the people of Jharkhand and the case of democracy against the authoritarian saffron regime there. He declared that the Party would go ahead with the proposed Ranchi march on 14 March under the slogan “Save Democracy, Save Jharkhand”.

Despite the Holi festival intervening, and withstanding all sorts of repression and provocation by the Marandi government to foil the march, a very successful march was held with more than 10,000 people. The Marandi government imposed prohibitory orders by clamping Section 144 in Ranchi on 13 March. The buses and trucks carrying the people for the march were stopped by the police in about 20 different places in different districts. In all these places the people immediately resorted to road blockade protesting against such illegal detention of vehicles and, in some cases, succeeded in getting the vehicles released and proceeded for the march. People numbering a few thousands also came from Bihar led by Bihar State Secretary, Comrade Ramjatan Sharma.

The attempt by the Marandi government to browbeat the CPI(ML) has clearly boomeranged and the saga of spirited resistance by CPI(ML), from the Assembly Gherao to the Save Democracy march, has turned out to be the most fitting revolutionary response to the ongoing attempts by the Marandi government to institute police raj in the fledgling state.


CPI(ML) in Jharkhand Assembly

CPI(ML) has only one MLA, Comrade Mahendra Singh, in the Jharkhand Assembly. Nevertheless, its effective role from the perspective of revolutionary opposition, through among other things, its floor coordination with other opposition parties, especially JMM and RJD, is widely acknowledged in the media.

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