Saturday, May 30, 2009

Meet India's Maoist MP behind bars


Meet India's Maoist MP behind bars

By Amarnath Tewary
Patna, Bihar

"When he got the news that he had won the parliamentary poll he started jumping and pacing in and out of his prison cell flashing overbearing excitement on his face," Indian jailer Binod Singh said.

The first elected Maoist to the Indian parliament is Kameshwar Baitha, 56, who is currently being held at the Rohtas district jail in the eastern state of Bihar. ( CORRECTION: from Jharkhand state)

Mr Baitha is one of the the most dreaded Maoist commanders not only in Bihar, but also in the states of Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh.

He also has the distinction of probably being the only Maoist - and maybe the only candidate - to contest India's recently concluded general elections from inside a jail.

'Prize catch'

Mr Baitha won the election as a candidate for the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) party, which has a tribal leadership and was competing for a reserved parliamentary seat specially set aside for minorities.

Mr Baitha must work on behalf of his constituents from within jail
His achievement is all the more remarkable because he still has a 500,000 rupees ($10,506) reward on his head announced by the three state governments.

When Mr Baitha was arrested on the outskirts of Patna in a joint special task force operation by police from Bihar, Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh in May 2005, the then police chief of Bihar, Ashish Ranjan Sinha, called him "the most wanted prize catch".

Altogether he faces 46 criminal cases ranging from murder and extortion to carrying out explosive acts.

He is accused of killing several policemen in a landmine blast triggered on the Bihar-Jharkhand border in 2002.

Police records show that Mr Baitha had been an active Maoist since 1984 - and his mastery of explosives and mines meant that he rose rapidly to the rank of zonal commander.

"There is no doubt that he is a dreaded Maoist leader, accused of a number of criminal acts," police chief Vikas Vaibhav told the BBC.

"As per our intelligence report he is still a hardcore Maoist leader."

Landmine blast

Jharkhand police say that Mr Baitha's name still spells terror in areas where the Maoists are active.

In India about 182 districts are affected by the Maoist insurgency - they are fighting for a communist state and improved rights for farmers and poorer rural people.

Maoism... came into existence because of the growing divide between rich and poor in the society

Kameshwar Baitha
Ironically they do not believe in the democratic process and have been boycotting most polls.

In fact they even boycotted the five-phase parliamentary poll which began in Bihar on 16 April. On the day of the vote in the Palamu region of the state - from where Mr Baitha was contesting his seat - six policemen were killed in a landmine blast triggered by Maoists.

It has now been reported that the Maoists have officially expelled Kameshwar Baitha from their outfit and even issued a death penalty against him for contesting the polls.

But police officials are sceptical.

"He may have ceased to be a member of the Maoists by contesting the poll, but our intelligence reports suggest that he is very much in the outfit commanding their operation in the area," Bihar Inspector General of Police SK Bhardwaj told the BBC.


However, Mr Baitha himself denies that he was or is a Maoist.

"I've been a mass leader fighting for the downtrodden and socially deprived people against the feudal forces of my area. I made people aware of their rights," he said soon after winning the poll.

But does he believe in Maoist philosophy?

"I believe in Marx's theories against capitalism and labour policies," he answered somewhat ambiguously.

Elections in Bihar were keenly contested
"Maoism is not a problem but a thought. It came into existence because of the growing divide between rich and poor in the society."

This is not the first time that Mr Baitha had contested in the polls. In 2007 he lost a parliamentary by-poll in the same constituency but representing a different party.

He is also not even the only Maoist leader who has contested in the polls.

Others such as Ranjan Yadav threw their hat into the ring and registered an impressive performance, although he lost the poll in the neighbouring constituency of Chatra.

If Mr Baitha is to be believed, other Maoists have been inspired by his electoral success and are ready to fight the forthcoming state assembly polls.

After his election triumph, Mr Baitha now attracts a stream of visitors to the prison and he stands at his cell window to oblige them.

His victory also means that he can attend future court hearings - and there are many of them in his case - without wearing handcuffs.

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