Sinlung /
18 June 2014

How Militant Leader’s Facebook Addiction Brought Meghalaya Police to Hideout in Bangalore

How militant leader’s FB addiction brought Meghalaya police to his hideout in the city Rapiush Sangma

By Prakruti P K

Wannabe-MLA-turned-radical in search of a quick buck was dumb enough to leave a rich e-trail for the law to catch up

The city's reputation as the tech capital seems to have got to him. He could have even treated his affliction at the prestigious Nimhans which has started a centre for curing people of tech addiction.

But, alas for him, 36-year-old Rapiush Ch Sangma just could not wean himself away from his numerous smartphones or the computer. In his calling, it is a no-no; even stupid considering he put himself on Facebook openly, without hiding his identity.

Sangma is deputy chairman of the Garo National Liberation Army (GNLA) — a banned militant outfit based in Meghalaya. Tracking his frequent FB postings and constant chattering from 10 smartphones, a four-month-long joint operation by Meghalaya and Bangalore police culminated at the doorstep of his hideout at Chandapura near Electronics City on Monday.

Though on the run for the past four months, Sangma is believed to have kept in touch with his subordinates in the outfit and controlled their activities through Facebook, where he frequently updated photographs and other information. He had last changed his profile picture on the networking site as recently as June 14, for which he had received 108 likes. All of which was rich pickings for sleuths hot on his trail. The militant leader finally landed in the police net based on calls from his 10 different mobiles and 20 SIM cards, along with his Facebook activity.

Becoming the second-in-command of a dreaded militant outfit, allegedly involved in numerous abductions, murders, and bombings, was not always part of Sangma's plan. Rapiush Sangma alias Rophul Syntang Marak actually holds a degree in Politics and English Literature from Don Bosco College in Tura.

Since his graduation, Sangma was employed as the village secretary of employment schemes under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA) for Garo Hills. During his tenure, Sangma reportedly struck a rapport with the villagers, which in turn kindled his ambitions. He then made bold to contest the assembly elections held on February 23 last year on a ticket from the Samajwadi Party. Apparently, he spent obscene amounts of money for his campaign to get elected from the Rongjeng constituency.

But his political ambitions crash-landed after he lost the elections, securing only 1,604 votes and coming a poor fifth. Undaunted, Sangma changed tack and joined the GNLA in an attempt to make some quick buck and retrieve lost ground from the election defeat.

The GNLA is one among the alphabet soup of insurgent outfits operational in India's troubled North-east. Established in 2009, it aims to set up a separate 'Garoland' for the Garo people of Meghalaya. The matrilineal Garos are the second-largest tribe in Meghalaya after the Khasi. The GNLA has been involved in extortion, attacks, and bombings.

Meghalaya Police think they know why Sangma rapidly rose through the GNLF ranks. "Sangma is the only educated militant. His boss, Sohan D Shira, has not even completed class five. It was like a shot in the arm for the GNLA to have Sangma in their ranks, which is why he rose to second-in-command in less than a year of joining the outfit. More than anything, he hoped to get rich easily by organising and planning notorious activities," Meghalaya's Inspector-General of Police (Operations) G H P Raju told Bangalore Mirror.

He added that Sangma had been on the run for the last four months. "We have been tracking his movements since he fled Garo Hills in early 2014. He 'migrated' to Bangalore along with his wife and two children, and had been leading a lavish lifestyle in the city. Sangma had 'earned' enough and more money through extortion, kidnaps, and murder that he had been involved in since he joined the GNLA. All this money had been deposited in his father-in-law's bank account, and he has made substantial withdrawals in order to survive in Bangalore. We have contacted the banks from where he had withdrawn money to ascertain how many transactions he had made, and of how much," the IGP said.

The Meghalaya Police had been on Sangma's trail by keeping a tab of his very active Facebook account. A Facebook natural, he is on the social network since July 2010. From what can be made out, he has either disabled other people's ability to friend him, or he has exceeded Facebook's cap of 5,000 friends for a profile account. But regardless, some 295 people follow him in public.

While his public posts were mostly self-portraits or pictures of family events featuring his wife and children, police suspect he used the network to post private messages to his accomplices. Pictures were posted to his public profile at least every alternate day. And these updates used to receive at least a 100 likes on an average. His profile listed political thrillers as the kind of movies which interested him, while in music the choice was pop.

Sangma was staying in Bangalore on borrowed time ever since IGP Raju's team recently contacted the Bangalore City Police for specific help to nab him. Raju said: "It took all of seven days for us to finally pinpoint his location and nab him at Chandapura near Electronics City. He had the habit of shifting in and out of fully-furnished apartments every 15 days so as to not leave traces of his whereabouts. However, we were tipped off that he was last seen living in a plush flat in upscale Koramangala. And when we raided his home early on Monday, we seized 20 SIM cards bought from Meghalaya, 10 smartphones, one tablet, one laptop, and two ATM cards, along with some weapons and ammunition."

Looks like his constant Facebook updates while on the run finally led to his undoing. Before he totally turned off his public status updates, Sangma had posted this to his Facebook account on May 22 last year: "People are not looking for miracles, they are looking for the right direction."

Prophetic words. Sangma is headed in the right direction, when the law-enforcers will first produce him in a local court before handing him over to the Meghalaya Police.

Source: Bangalore Mirror


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