Page last updated at 23:41 GMT, Saturday, 8 May 2010 00:41 UK

Death threats leave Jharkand politicians in fear

By Amarnath Tewary
Patna, Bihar

Maoist rebels in India
There has been a surge in Maoist violence in recent months

Senior politicians in the Indian state of Jharkand say they are living in fear and hardly dare venture from their own homes.

In recent weeks Maoist rebels have begun issuing death threats against local Congress Party leaders - demanding they oppose the government's latest military offensive against the guerrillas.

These are not empty threats.

Earlier this month the Maoists gunned down Congress leader Govardhan Mahli in the East Singhbhum district of the state.

The Indian government recently launched a major offensive against the rebels. In Jharkand, government and state security forces want to flush the Maoists out of the remote swathes of forest they occupy.

But Jharkand is at the centre of the Maoists' "red corridor" - they have a heavy presence in 18 of the state's 24 districts and call strikes, blow up train tracks and lay landmines.

More than 1,000 people have been killed in the insurgency in Jharkhand.

Poster campaign

Around the same time of the assassination of Mr Mahli, 24 Congress leaders in the district of Palamu resigned in fear of the Maoist diktat.

Maoist rebels in Chhattisgarh
We have advised party leaders to take the utmost precautions
Radha Krishna Kishore

And in late April the rebels issued a fresh ultimatum through a poster campaign exhorting 38 Congress leaders in Palamu to quit the party or face the consequences.

Seventeen of them quit last week.

Congress politicians say they feel helpless in the face of the threat.

"It's a question of life. We're not able to come out of our homes or go outside the state capital. The state government has completely surrendered before the Maoists," a Congress leader told the BBC on condition of anonymity.

Congress legislator Radha Krishna Kishore described the atmosphere among the political elite in Jharkand.

"They [the Maoists] have already been executing their threat and the situation is even more alarming and grave than it appears," he said.

Security plea

He says there is a very real fear that Jharkhand could go the same way as the state of Punjab during the height of its insurgency in the 1970s - when he says that more than 36,000 Congress party members and their families were killed by militants.

Mr Kishore says that his colleagues in Jharkhand have been pleading with the chief minister and police chief for better security.

They have also established a five-member committee to take stock of the situation and suggest possible ways the party can escape the wrath of the Maoists.

Mr Kishore is convener of the committee as is Jharkhand Congress President Pradeep Balmuchu.

"Now the committee has submitted its report we'll put it before our party chief Sonia Gandhi, the prime minister and home minister to make them aware of the threat," Mr Balmuchu told the BBC.

"Until then we're keeping our fingers crossed and have advised party leaders to take the utmost precautions when moving out from their houses or constituencies."

Congress party members in Jharkhand
Congress party members are being subjected to a campaign of intimidation

But the Maoist influence in Jharkand extends beyond the remote jungles of the state.

Their presence is so strong that in the latest elections to the state assembly, their representatives - in different political parties - won nine seats.

The Maoists contend they are fighting for the rights of poor, marginal farmers and the oppressed classes.

But the authorities are sceptical about their dedication to the cause.

Police say that since they have stepped up operations, many top Maoist leaders have fled into neighbouring Bihar state.

Some Congress leaders may do likewise. As the Indian government forges ahead with the biggest anti-Maoist offensive on record, the ramifications in individual states across India are far-reaching and potentially deadly.

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