Friday, November 27, 2009

26/11 to Maoists: a soldier’s war


New Delhi, Nov. 26: Forty-eight-year-old Raj Kishore Prasad is a fighter pilot whose tear-filled eyes reflect competing conflicts in the country, so violently has his life swung from 26/11 to a Maoist attack on his family.

A son of parents who were forcibly evicted from their land, along with tribals, by the government in Jharkhand, Group Captain Raj Kishore Prasad now wants to use his special skills to hunt down the militants. Many of the tribals who were evicted like his parents are Maoist supporters.

Raj Kishore was the director on duty at the operations centre in Vayu Sena Bhavan, Air Headquarters, in New Delhi on the night of November 26-27 exactly a year ago. The Directorate of Air Operations is also called the “war room”. Its personnel work 24 hours, monitoring and clearing air traffic.

He was the point man for the Western Air Command, Union home ministry and the National Security Guard, mobilising aircraft to fly commandos to Mumbai and alerting the Indian Air Force’s own helicopter squadrons.

Today, the fighter pilot who has flown 1,000 hours in a MiG-21 combat jet and has since converted to flying helicopters, is eager to use his training in special operations against the Maoists.

He is angry that they kidnapped his brother in June this year, from McCluskie Ganj, once a resort favoured by Anglo-Indians and celebrities from Calcutta, in Jharkhand.

Raj Kishore felt humiliated because the Maoists forced him “to go around with a begging bowl” to raise the Rs 10 lakh they had demanded as ransom. After 28 years in service in the IAF, he still does not have Rs 10 lakh in his provident fund, his friends say. (A group captain earns about Rs 1 lakh a month since the recommendations of the sixth pay commission were implemented earlier this year.)

The fighter pilot has met defence minister A.K. Antony and home secretary G.K. Pillai. He has written to home minister P. Chidambaram detailing his circumstances and making his plea that he be allowed to hunt down Maoists.

The IAF has asked the government for permission to open fire in self-defence. Antony told Parliament yesterday that the government was framing the “rules of engagement” in the offensive against the Maoists.

Military service rules bar Raj Kishore from speaking to the media but a soulmate of the officer told The Telegraph: “Raj wants his actions legitimised, he does not want to be called a murderer.”

The group captain’s story is now told and retold by his friends and serving officers in the armed forces, many of whom, like him, come from families that have reared professional soldiers for generations.

Raj Kishore’s father B.N. Prasad, now 80, retired from the army after moving up the ranks to honorary captain.

His younger brother Shyam Kishore Prasad, 44, who was taken hostage, retired from the army after 12 years in service. Raj Kishore’s son Ashwin was this year commissioned into the IAF as a flying officer and is now a MiG-21 combat pilot like his father was.

Raj Kishore’s daughter Neha, 20, has opted to go into the army. She has been selected for the Officers’ Training Academy, Chennai, which trains women for the Short Service Commission.

So moved was a retired colonel, a former batchmate of Raj Kishore’s since his days in the National Defence Academy, that he published the letter to Chidambaram in a trade journal, the Indian Defence Review.

Like Raj Kishore, the armed forces are fed up with police. “The superintendent of police in Ranchi and the other officers were useless,” one officer said. “These people cannot distinguish the barrel of an LMG (light machine gun) from its butt,” said another.

Raj Kishore, his friends said, is acutely aware how poverty and anger have fuelled the Maoists’ movement. He built his house in McCluskie Ganj after his family, along with others from nearly 20 villages, was forcibly evicted by the government because it wanted to use the land for coal mining.

At that time, the family had about eight acres and lived in a village off the Ranchi-Hazaribagh road. The total compensation amounted to Rs 6.5 lakh, which was shared by his father and brother. In most of the villages, the tribals either got nothing or paltry amounts.

Using his savings and those of his father and an elder brother, Raj Kishore built two houses in McCluskie Ganj — one for his immediate family and the other for his parents. Another elder brother is mentally challenged and has to be cared for. Shyam Kishore, Raj Kishore’s younger brother, took premature retirement to care for the family. He is now a technical hand with Central Coalfields.

On June 16 this year, Raj Kishore drove from Delhi to McCluskie Ganj with his wife and daughter. The family halted for the night in Allahabad. The next day, shortly after reaching McCluskie Ganj, he walked over to his parents’ house from his own. It was dusk.

There was a power failure and even the mobile phone network was switched off because there was no supply to the transmitter.

Raj Kishore was taken aback when he saw about 15 youths around his parents’ house. One of them, obviously the leader, who was about 30 years old, came up to him and asked who he was and what his business was. He told them and asked for Shyam Kishore.

“Bhaiyya, tu aa gaya (brother, have you come)?” a feeble voice from behind the house asked. Raj Kishore walked around and found Shyam Kishore surrounded by more youths holding what looked like country-made rifles to him.

The youths left, taking Shyam Kishore with them. The parents and the brothers were panicky. Raj Kishore informed police the next morning. Around 4pm, his phone rang. The call was from his brother’s number. It was from the kidnappers. They demanded two self-loading rifles or Rs 10 lakh in cash. His father pleaded with them, to no avail.

“I must confess that it was heartrending for me to witness the helplessness of the man who had never compromised his dignity and honour and who had fought all the wars for the country from 1948 to1971,” wrote Raj Kishore in his account to Chidambaram.

The kidnappers set a 24-hour deadline and asked his 80-year-old father to reach Tori village on a two-wheeler with the cash. Raj Kishore was bereft. He sought help from acquaintances he had made during a posting in Ranchi where he was director with the National Cadet Corps “trying to make soldiers out of hungry tribals”.

Two old builder/contractor friends provided the bulk of the amount and others pitched in with smaller sums.

Raj Kishore kept the police informed of his movements even as he followed his father to the appointed place. It was nearly 11 in the night when his father came out of the jungles with Shyam Kishore.

Raj Kishore told the home minister that even after that the police, who had given him the impression they would go after the kidnappers, did not move. Instead, police officers briefed him on the histories of the different Naxalite factions and told him that the gang that had taken his brother hostage was with the Maoists but had since fallen out.

It is only a matter of months, Raj Kishore wrote to the home minister, before “these gun-toting, trigger-happy youths roam the streets of Jharkhand with rockets and grenade launchers and the latest automatic weapons, much like the Taliban in Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province”.

Air power must be used because the ground forces (the police) have been overtaken by the Maoists, he told superiors in the defence and home ministries. “I have also flown helicopters in the IAF for 10 years and qualified in special operations. I sincerely feel I would be able to evolve strategies and tactics for aerial operations to effectively neutralise such rogue elements in a respectable time frame,” he wrote to Chidambaram.


Jonty said...

Dear Nagesh,
Let me thank you for taking up my cause on your blogspot. Not that I have much hope for any dramatic response or turn around from the people who matter, but none the less, itis a heart warming feeling when some one whos has no vested interest shares your anguish and pain.
Besides 26/11, it's only incidental that I was again the Director on Duty when Late Cm of Andhra, Shri YSR Reddy's chopper went missing. And yet again, I took it as call of duty to coordinate the aerial Search and Rescue missions, till the next morning when the crash site was located and the unfortunate victims bodies were finally extricated from that inhospitable terrain.
The resources mobilised were collosal even at the most conservative estimates. But I don't stop wondering if it would have the same if the chopper was without the CM. Endless number of our soldiers are dying every day and many going missing, fighting militants and insurgents. And at the end of the day,let alone any govt effort to alleviate the miseries of the families of the slain soldiers,they don't even merit a mention on FM radio channels.
I am forced to ask, after all how important are these so called Very Important Personss, whose only business is to drain the coffers of the govt ex-chequer, this way or that.
Some times I am disillusioned to think that perhaps the Maoists and the naxals are a yet another facet of these Khaki clad goons and their subservient beurocracy. The Laloos and the Kodas and the Natwars and the Mayawatis, are ultimately people with not as important a role as VIP but continuing to bear heavily on the already stretched securty appratus for the common man.

Look at their blatancy when they mobilise the securty apparatus come elections, whether it is Garhchiroli in Maharashtra or Jharkhand and very soon every thing fades away like froth of the urine puddle of a kid letting it off on sand. Not that the apathy and indifference of the govt towards tribals and underprivileged i the naxal hit staes is anything new, but the Govt in their streak of "Good Governance" wake up only when elections come by. It is to be seen and asked if those petty cases against the poor tribals have really been waived off. I am sure that no one is even talking about it any more.
To realise that the woes and and the anger of the common farmer and rural population of the state of Jharkhand and their tilt for the gun to join the band wagon of the naxals is not entirely misplaced, one has to be in the thick of it as I and my folks in there live.
With corrupt and criminalised politians, inefficient and equally corrupt beaurocracy and an impotent and deathly scared police force, whom does one look upto. Today I say it with all conviction that every day I live is by the will of God and mere providence.
Nobody in the country, without exception deserves any acolades for my survival.
Raj K Prasad
Group Captain

Dr. Amrit Gaur said...

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