Jaideep Deogharia & Deeptiman Tiwary, TNN | Mar 29, 2013,

RANCHI/NEW DELHI: At least ten Maoistsincluding some senior leaders of the CPI (Maoist) were killed in a pitched gun battle with rival faction, TritiyaPrastuti Committee (TPC), inJharkhand on Thursday. This is one of the rare instances when Maoists have lost several of their top leaders in an internecine fight that has dealt a body blow to the banned outfit.

Among the 10 dead, security forces have identified three top leaders -Lalesh Yadav alias Prashant, state secretary (Madhya zone, Bihar Regional Committee) and closest aide of Latehar encounter leader Arvindji, Dharmendra Yadav alias Veeru, member of sub-zonal committee of Eastern Palamu zone and Jai Kumar Yadav, a ‘platoon commander’. Prafulla, a sub-zonal committee member, is also suspected to be among the dead. But several bodies are still to be identified. Self-styled TPC area commander Ajayji, however, said that 15 Maoists had been killed and another 10 taken hostage, but police declined to confirm the claim.

“The gun battle has eliminated the top Maoist leaders from the Madhya zone and we expect restoration of the peace in the region,” JharkhandDGP Rajiv Kumar said. The killings give opportunity to the security forces to lay siege to naxal-infested areas in Bihar where the Maoists now remain cornered in Jamui and Gaya districts. “They were running the show in Bihar. This is the time for the state to conduct operations in the areas and bring administration to the people. Maoists will not be able to rise again if that happens,” said an official from the security establishment.

The fierce firefight in the Lakarbandha forests in Chatra lasted over 12 hours after which police recovered one AK-47, two .303 rifles, three .315 rifles and a huge quantity of ammunition from the site. Jharkhand Police spokesperson Richard Lakra said that the gun battle began at around 2PM on Wednesday and continued till 2AM on Thursday. “On receiving information, police teams and jawans of CRPF‘s CoBRA contingent ventured into the forests and spotted the bodies as the day broke,” he said.

Sources said the Maoist group was caught unawares by the sudden attack by a large number of armed TPC activists while they were holding a meeting in the Lakarbandha forests, about 100 km from Ranchi. Lalesh’s group was preparing to move to Chatra to rescue Maoist leader Sandeep, who separated from Arvindji’s group in Jharkhand, and bring him to Bihar. Security forces had recently cornered Arvindji in Gumla district, but he managed to give them a slip.

A March 25 encounter in Dumaria area of Gaya between a CoBRA contingent and Maoists is believed to have set the stage for Thursday’s bloody internecine clash. There were no casualties in the hour-long exchange of fire that day. “The encounter, however, set the Maoists back in terms of ammunition and morale and going into a rescue operation in Jharkhand they were at a disadvantage,” said an intelligence official.

Sources said, the group had some injured people and it was while arranging for their medical help that the information of their arrival in Chatra got leaked to TPC- a splinter group that separated from CPI (Maoists) alleging that it was Yadav-dominated and discriminated against tribals (to which TPC cadres belong) in the party.

Maoists have routinely accused the police of supporting TPC which had identified CPI (Maoist) as its ‘main enemy’ after the break-up. According to police records more than 100 ultras have been killed in the Maoist-TPC turf war in the past three years alone. Of the 57 extremists killed in 2010, 38 died in internecine conflict while 40 of the 69 killed in 2011 and 22 of the 33 deaths in 2012 were due to inter-group clashes. Maoists had given a call for unilateral ceasefire for three months last year, urging the splinter group to join ranks. The TPC operates in Palamau, Latehar, Garhwa and parts of Hazaribagh districts.