There has been a hue and cry following the ‘Martyrs in garbage truck’ expose which thankfully was duly noted by editors sitting in metropolitan cities like Mumbai and Delhi. However some relevant facts need to be acknowledged as well.
First, the incident
On June 26, 2011, at 1940hrs from the Kirandul Police Station, a team led by Inspector. DN Nagwanshi left in a police Bolero patrol jeep for Essar gate near Patelpara, 8km away from police station. Barely 50 minutes later at 2030hrs, the jeep was blown up in a relatively minor landmine blast (investigators have found that barely 5kg worth of explosives were packed). While three men died on the spot and their leader, Nagwanshi got seriously injured, the others sustaining lighter injuries, fired back. Police sources claim that this reflex action led to the Maoists fleeing. No weapons were looted. Inspector Nagwanshi later succumbed to his injuries while enroute to Jagdalpur (80km from Dantewada) for treatment.
No surprises here
For those witnessing this largely ignored a conflict, anywhere in the so-called ‘Red corridor’, this incident has hardly come as a surprise. If anything, locals believe this instance was better a show than what has been offered in the past.
Mentioned a local journalist, who has shot several such ‘salamis’ as they are called, “Bhaiyya, humne to yeh tak dekha hai ki shaheedon ko bike par le jaate hai.” (We have even seen the martyrs being taken away in bikes.) He also went on to add that he personally never thought there was anything in this report to get the attention it is getting presently. Facts of the case speak out. It was not before the noon of Monday that the bodies made their journey in the truck and yet the first time the story flashed up on television was a good 24 hours later, if not more on Tuesday!
The Collector and the SP of Dantewada have stated that before the coffins were loaded, the truck (which they insist was not a garbage carrying truck) was totally cleaned up so as to honour the dead appropriately.
‘Wanted to hurry up’
According to details accessed, none of the four deceased lived closeby. While Nagvanshi’s body had to be taken all the way to Raipur, the others i.e Bhushan Mandavi belonged to Dhamtari district, Alsan Ekka and Laxman Bhagat both belonged Jeshpur district, all of them located at least 200 km away far away from Dantewada. Speaking off the record, a senior officer revealed that given the weather, landing a helicopter was not feasible. “The bodies were obviously not in a good state from the onset. Plus in absence of any storage facility had we delayed further, bodies would have deteriorated by the time they reached their homes,” said the officer. In fact the officer went on to reveal that it was his direction to the local cops that the bodies needed to be moved out at the earliest.
“They ideally should have avoided this but may be following my directions they acted in the quickest possible manner,” the officer revealed. Said an IPS officer of a neighbouring district, “It has to be a case of miscommunication. I know for a fact that knowingly nobody would have let this happen. We are sensitive to our boys.” He also termed the entire coverage as being ‘highly over-stretched’.
A bitter feeling
On discussing the issue those who have served in Dantewada, it does seem like this incident has left an avoidable, bitter taste. Reason being that Kirandul is not a typical remote and under-developed region where the Maoists hold sway. Quite to the contrary, Kirandul with its resource-richness has an urban set up which even the district headquarters in Dantewada does not posess. Apart from hosting a heavily guarded National Mineral Development Corporation facility, it also has an advanced 400km-long underground pipeline emanating which culminates in Vizag. Said an officer who has served there is the past, “If anything, Dantewada as a district headquarters is not as equipped as Kirandul is. One could have justified this in any other area but Kirandul, certainly not.”
It is learnt that the available ambulances were dispatched for those who survived the attack. The question is even if no ambulance was left following the treatment of the injured, with more than 12 hours at hand before the bodies were moved out from Kirandul, couldn’t the administration have summoned ambulances from elsewhere if not Dantewada itself given that the distance was barely 40kms!
Compare it to paramilitary forces
In the Left Wing Extremism (LWE)-affected areas, police and the paramilitary forces work together. It is interesting to compare the scenario between the two. Be it last year’s massacre of 76 personnel (75 CRPF + 1 police) or even the ambush on June 26 itself in Kanker district of Bastar where 02 Border Security Force (BSF) personnel lost their lives, the salami does not take place without the Director General (DG) of the respective force flying down from wherever he may be. With the Chhattisgarh police, the DGP may or may not be available. “That apart, officers from the paramilitary insist of flying coffins back in helicopters to cut down on time. There is that amount of sensitivity existing. But there is no such thing for the police even though the state government of Chhattisgarh hosts a couple of Indian Air Force (IAF) Mi17 choppers and rented ones as well,” remarked an officer involved in the Anti Naxal wing of the state police.
On the ground
Within the last couple of months, only in Chhattisgarh, 40-0dd personnel have lost their lives apart from scores getting injured. Though officers insist otherwise, the jawan on the ground does seem to be confused, if not worse. Apart from fighting with his hands tied owing to shortage of resources and uncaring administration (seen from the condition of their camps and gear alloted to them) a clear lack of direction from the leadership (while Union Home Minister draws up operations, members and leaders of his party term Maoist menace as ‘social’ and ‘economic’ problem without even realising the barbarism and ghastliness of the enemy that the jawan has been sent to face) , he also has to make do with outdated equipment which will disable if not kill (case in the point being Anti Landmine Vehicles or Bullet Proof vehicles, both of which have turned out stark losers in this theatre).
Lack of overall seriousness
On a strategic level, we seem to have little interest in fighting this menace. It is evident from the fact that despite almost two decades of this affecting us, there is little thought that has gone into setting up logistical supplies. This ‘garbage truck for martyrs’ issue is a case in the point. On the other hand, in Kashmir, the army has managed a superb system whereby help is never far from hand. Investigators have often found that when Maoists launch an attack, seldom it is the case that they lack medical aid. In some form or the other, their attacks carry an element of medical support – something our soldiers fighting them do not have. Little point then hounding Mr. Raman Singh or Dantewada Collector or SP, I believe. A war not seriously fought is a war, seriously lost.