Ranchi: An incumbent MLA in Jharkhand is contesting the upcoming assembly polls against a former legislator who allegedly hired an assassin to kill his father. But there’s more to the contest for Tamar, one of the state’s 81 assembly seats. The third contestant is the contract killer allegedly hired for the murder.
Tamar MLA Vikash Munda of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), former legislator Raja Peter of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and Kundan Pahan, an Independent, will face off in the second phase of the state’s five-phase election on 7 December.
Peter was a cabinet colleague of Vikash’s father Ramesh Singh Munda in the short-lived Arjun Munda state government (2006-08).
He is accused of orchestrating Bundu MLA Ramesh’s assassination in 2008 through Pahan, a former Naxalite leader and member of the banned CPI (Maoist) who once carried a Rs 15 lakh bounty. He currently faces more than 100 cases. The National Investigation Agency (NIA) is probing the assassination case.
Pahan and Peter are both in jail in connection with the case, but received permission from an NIA court to contest the elections.
Speaking to ThePrint, Vikash said the public would keep Peter out of office, even as the latter’s wife defended him. Pahan’s lawyer refused to talk about the allegations, but explained how he decided to join the electoral race.
Kundan Pahan — a last-minute decision to contest
Pahan was said to have been eyeing a ticket from the Jharkhand Party before it developed cold feet and cancelled his candidature just a day before nominations. He then registered himself as an Independent candidate on 19 November.
According to his lawyer Ishwar Dayal Kishore, Pahan only decided to contest on 8 November. “He said he wishes to serve the people now. Then I sought permission from the court,” he said. “Currently he has some key associates who are running his campaign.”
Pahan, a name that courts much notoriety in Jharkhand, is an accused in several murder cases with his high-profile targets, including an MP, Sunil Mahto, and a deputy superintendent of police, Pramod Kumar, besides several police personnel.
Kumar was killed in a landmine blast during a search operation against Maoist extremists on 30 June 2008.
He is also accused of robbing a bank of Rs 5.5 crore.
In 2015, an arrested Naxalite named Ram Mohan is said to have confessed to being involved in the Ramesh Singh Munda murder case. At the time, Ram Mohan, a zonal commander, was considered the right-hand man of Pahan. During his interrogation, he hinted at the involvement of a high-profile individual in the assassination.
Two years later, in May 2017, Pahan surrendered in Ranchi under a rehabilitation scheme for Maoists. His lawyer said the assassination case is in court and refused to comment on the allegations.
Raja Peter — wife leads campaign in his absence
Peter’s biggest claim to fame is that he defeated former chief minister Shibu Soren of the JMM in a by-election for Tamar in 2009. Peter contested that election as a JD(U) candidate with full backing of the BJP.
Soren, who was the chief minister at the time and contesting to retain the post, had to resign.
Peter’s real name is Gopal Singh Patar. In 1979, when he was 17, Peter emerged as the topper in the tribal and mulnivasi (original inhabitant) category in a trade apprentice exam conducted by Tata Steel.
Soon afterwards, he got married to a girl named Manisha alias Bela Khesh. His entry into the crime world is said to have begun not much later. When an associate of dreaded dacoit Yunus, Shekhar Sharma, allegedly made indecent gestures towards Manisha, Peter brutally thrashed him.
Peter is said to have started courting the crime world in order to save himself from retribution.
Manisha passed away in a cooking stove blast, and Peter then married Aarti Kuri Peter. In 1995, Jamshedpur’s then superintendent of police Ajay Kumar, a former Jharkhand Congress chief who is now with the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), launched an anti-crime drive. Peter was nabbed during the operation and barred from the district.
That’s when he started to build his base in Tamar, which is 85 km from state capital Ranchi. Ramesh Singh Munda was a popular leader in the area, which is believed to have posed a challenge to Peter’s political ambitions.
On 9 July 2008, Ramesh was assassinated in a suspected Naxal attack while participating in a school function at Bundu. The next year, Peter won a by-election as well as a general election to represent Tamar in the assembly.
Posts on a Facebook page in Peter’s name indicate his 2019 campaign is being handled by his wife Arati in his absence.
Speaking to ThePrint, Arati refuted any implication of his involvement in the killing.
“One cannot win elections by killing someone. The public doesn’t vote for a killer,” she said. “My husband won out of love of the people earlier too and will win this time as well. Let the court decide if my husband is guilty or not.”
Vikash Munda — a fight for his father’s legacy
Vikash has been the Tamar MLA since 2014, when he defeated Peter, contesting as an Independent, by over 25,000 votes. He contested the 2014 election as a candidate of the All Jharkhand Students Union Party. Before the election, there was speculation that he might join the BJP but he finally entered the JMM on 20 October.
Speaking about the case against his father’s suspected assassins, Vikash said, “Whatever be the court’s decision, the incident did happen and it happened in front of people’s eyes. Society is watching all this.”
“Until the time the whole incident hadn’t come to light, people sent Raja Peter to the assembly. Now that this incident is out in the open, he is behind bars,” he added. “Now, people will decide accordingly.”
Results for the Jharkhand assembly elections are scheduled for 23 December.
Anand Dutta is a Jharkhand-based freelance journalist