From the time between the Maoist ambush on CRPF troopers in Sukma on Monday and the return of the companies to the camp, authorities were unusually coy about letting out the details.
This was done to avoid letting out details of the presence of a “high-profile target” in the rescue party. Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) authorities feared the info could have further attracted the insurgents.
It is now emerging that in that hostile territory in Chhattisgarh was present the highest-ranking CRPF officer in the state – Inspector General H.S. Siddhu – an Indian Police Service officer from the Punjab cadre currently on deputation.
The IG’s presence was neither mentioned officially nor acknowledged till the two CRPF parties returned to the camp.
It was only close to 9.30 pm that twin parties from 206 and 223 CRPF battalions could make their way into the Chintagufa camp located 5 km from the ambush site along with the Inspector General.
“Our companies were to return from two different locations in the same general area. The party that came under attack was not the one being led by the IG. However, on hearing about the attack, he led the troopers and others to reinforce those facing fire,” a CRPF officer, not wanting to be named, told IndiaToday.in.
Devoid of any air support, since none of the Indian Air Force (IAF) choppers could take off to help the troopers caught in Maoist fire, it fell upon the ground troops to bail out their colleagues.
“The company led by the IG and Deputy Commandant (Ops) managed to help their colleagues. They had to pick up the dead and the wounded as they were pulling out,” said another officer, not wanting to be named.
Moving out of the killing zone was not enough.
The entire region, a known stronghold of Maoists, was a minefield.
Even though the firing, which started at 11 am, subsided by afternoon, “we kept our fingers crossed” till the teams made it to the camp, said an insider.
During afternoon and evening, there were many tense moments as security forces would often lose connectivity with forces constantly on the move.
There is virtually no mobile coverage in that region owing to continuing reluctance of both private and state operators to install communication towers.
Also, this was not the first time that Siddhu, known to take part in and lead operations, was present at the site of a major ambush.
Even on November 21, in the same area when the troops came under fire, he was present and chose to go in again.
That day, seven troopers, including Siddhu’s gunman Rupak Rawat, were injured; an IAF rescue chopper was fired at and even IG had a close shave.
Siddhu, since the last two years, has initiated a morale-boosting move – by raising the Tricolour in Tadmetla on August 15.
Tadmetla holds a special significance for the CRPF since this was the location where in April 2010, 76 personnel were killed in a Maoist ambush.
However, Siddhu’s style of functioning has also been criticised.
“While it’s good and helps the forces, beyond a point, one must realise that your presence can become a liability for the men who will remain concerned about your safety,” a senior CRPF officer said, not wanting to be named.