It is now confirmed. Maoist leaders of Bihar-Jharkhand are fighting with each other after the killing of Lucas Tete, a policeman who was killed after being abducted along with three of his colleagues on August 29.
Police officials Abhay Yadav, Rupesh Kumar Sinha, Ehsan Khan and Tete were abducted after Maoists killed seven Bihar Military Police jawans in an encounter in the Kajra jungles of Lakhisarai, 170 km east of Patna. There was a difference among the four men: Tete, a trainee assistant sub-inspector, was a Christian tribal.
The Maoists' top tribal zonal commander, Birbal Murmu, who was in the area on August 29, demanded that area zonal commander Arvind Yadav kill the other three policemen too. Arvind Yadav, however, shielded Ajay Yadav, who shared his caste, though he demanded that the Bihar government release eight top Maoist leaders.
Murmu's demand is said to have led to sporadic firing between his group and that led by Arvind Yadav in a forest tract some 20 km southeast of Lakhisarai, late night on Sunday. Arvind Yadav's group forced Murmu to retreat, but they released the three policemen because they feared they couldn't ensure their safety.
Caste lines in rebel ranks
Murmu's line was consistent with the voices from within Jharkhand, where mainstream tribal leaders had warned of 'reprisals' on the Maoists for 'using tribals to kill tribals'. The warnings had come via Enos Ekka and Bandhu Tirkey, both former ministers.
Outside Bihar, it is the tribal groups and communities -- deprived of development and employment -- that have joined the Maoist ranks. The command chain of the Maoists in Orissa, Chattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and West Bengal rests on tribal commanders and cadres. And it is among such elements, that the killing of a tribal has not gone down well.
In contrast, Bihar's command systems rests on the powerful Yadav groups and Koeris, who lord over the North Bihar and Seemanchal zones as also the Central-Magadh and Kaimur-Sonebhadra zones which overlap with Uttar Pradesh. The Bihar commanders are not actually co-opted for operations outside their local domain and in other states.
People who once supported the former rebel group Peoples War say lack of an overall philosophical and poor strategy could have led Arvind Yadav to kill Tete, who was an "outsider" and did not fit the caste profile of those who commanded the turf in Bihar.
Tete's Christian tribal community is not known to support the Maoists in the same way that other tribal groups do. The better-educated Christian tribals have an advantage in finding employment than non-Christian tribals and have little reason to resort to violence as political tool.
In Dumka, the headquarters of Santhal Parganas, the Church, which has had an influence in this non-committal politics, has sided often with the Sibu Soren-led Jharkhand Mukti Morcha. Soren has several times warned against Maoist incursions in the area.
The resentment of Maoists against Christian tribals showed up when Induwar Francis, a Jharkhand Police Sub Inspector and a Christian tribals, was beheaded in Singhbhum earlier this year. Francis's execution caused the condemnation of the Maoists at a time when they were being confronted by the police in Chattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh and forced them to go through an extended re-grouping process in Jharkhand.
Francis' killing showed that the Maoists as an outfit whose political responses were shaped "not by mass line, but caste and community lines".
Tete's killing has, however, papered over the tribal divide and has brought in universal condemnation again. Maoists, who are fighting for survival in tribal heartland of the four contiguous states of Jharkhand, Chattisgarh, Orissa and Madhya Pradesh, fear that Tete's execution could boomerang severely on them.
The killing could pan out to deprive the tribal squads of its bases, hiding places and security of movement should the revulsion over the killing of Tete spread further. The Bihar Police, too, claims, that they now are better poised against the Maoists in Bihar.
The Bihar Police believes that the Maoists killed Tete at the 'wrong time', when the rebels gathered in the Kajra forest tracts were trying to disperse while the police had blockaded them from three sides.
However, one exit route towards Jharkhand-Bengal remained via the Jamui tracts, south of Lakhisarai, which the Naxalites used to get away.
Police also say, that field intelligence had conveyed of the worry among Naxalites, that at some point, despite Chief Minister Nitish Kumar's pleadings and assurance of safe passage, the West Bengal and Jharkhand police would come into play to seal the borders and catch them in a pincer. The escape routes over the Ganga River and to the north had also been sealed by the Khagria, Bugusarai and Katihar police forces.
Given the fact, that several top commanders of all Naxal affected states including Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra were participating, the CPI-Maoists were more intent on getting them out and did not want to run into another series of encounters. Thus holding the hostages longer offered them some 'comfort level', knowing that they remained the most powerful shield against 'possible' air and other operations, which would have made their hilly positions redundant.
The arrest of two prominent cadre members on Friday, the appeals from the civil society led by Swami Agnivesh, Arundhati Roy, Medha Patkar and Mahashweta Devi, the snapping of the food supply lines due to police encirclement and the united appeal of all political parties, also seemed to have played a part.
In the end , the announcement, that the hostages were to be released on Sunday morning actually helped them to hold back the police forces, who stepped off a strike and allowed them over 24 hours to evacuate themselves from the 'hot zone'. The release of the hostages came soon after.