A militia allegedly backed by the Jharkhand administration appears to be giving sleepless nights to what Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has described as India's biggest internal security threat - the CPI (Maoists) - in this eastern state.
Armed with sophisticated weapons such as AK-47 assault rifles and SLRs (self-loading rifles) used by the state police and the Maoists alike, the Tritiya Prastuti Committee (TPC), meaning Third Action Committee, is wreaking havoc on the parent organisation, whose influence covers 18 of Jharkhand's 24 districts.
Though the outfit is one of at least six rebel splinter groups in Jharkhand, it's the most potent because it's the only one which has the tacit support of the state and its security forces.
The TPC is inflicting irreparable damage to its parent organsation by providing vital leads to the security forces, guiding them into Maoist hideouts, engaging its fighters in gun battles and then killing them with the help of the state forces.
Though the TPC - which claims to propagate Stalinism - was formed in 2002, it is only recently that it's being used by the Jharkhand administration to battle the Maoists.
It has also brought to light the state's tactics of allegedly sponsoring an enemy to wipe out the bigger enemy, something first witnessed in Kashmir in the form of the state-backed Ikhwan-ul-Muslimeen and then in Chhattisgarh's Dantewada district where the state supported armed vigilante groups - named the Salwa Judum - against the Maoists.
The grisly killing of 10 Maoist guerrillas, including four senior leaders, by lesser known TPC cadres at Chatra in March-end this year signaled a new chapter in the 46-year-old Maoist or Naxal movement in the country.
Both the TPC and the Jharkhand police, however, deny reports of their collusion. "It's true that the police are not our biggest enemies, but we do not enjoy any patronage from them," senior TPC leader Alokji told HT from his hideout.
Jharkhand director general of police Rajiv Kumar and his predecessor GS Rath vehemently denied reports of the police alliance with the TPC. "Any group which is into wanton killings cannot be our friend," Kumar said, adding, "We have booked and killed TPC men in encounters whenever confronted."
Said a former Maoist zonal commander now leading a civilian life in Palamu: "The TPC comprises a bunch of renegades, most of whom were thrown out for misappropriation of party funds or for indulging in adultery, womanising, and alcohol addiction." He alleged that acting on police directives, TPC men had burnt the houses of all his relatives when he was in the organisation fighting an ideological battle with the state.
"They didn't even spare the house of my newly-wed niece and looted all her belongings before rendering the family homeless," he said.
"Organisations like the TPC that thrive merely on state support don't last long," said former Jharkhand Maoist organisation secretary Yugal Pal, pointing to the Salwa Judum, which is non-existent these days. "The TPC has no commitment to the masses, neither has it had any ideology. Without the people's support, no left-wing extremist group can flourish," he said.