BY JUGAL R PUROHIT
Today, the Maoist insurgents in Chhattisgarh’s Bastar region demonstrated why despite suffering several reverses they retain the ability to inflict heavy damage.
Armed with guns, bows and arrows fitted with explosives, improvised rockets and other explosives, about 120 Maoists (about 60 armed cadres, 40 villager-based supporters and 2nd Company of the People’s Liberation Guerilla Army) chose to take on two companies consisting of a total of 113 well-armed Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel. The encounter began at 9:10am. By the time it ended at 10am, the insurgents had killed eleven personnel, injured five more (one of which succumbed taking the death toll to 12) and walked away with ten rifles, a Light Machine Gun (LMG), a 51mm mortar, an Under Barrel Grenade Launcher, over 1000 rounds of ammunition, two wireless sets and as many para bombs. The 219th battalion of the CRPF from which the troops were did not have a single dead body of a Maoist insurgent to show how the 100 odd members who survived the attack fought back. “Reports are that we have killed 2-3 of them but we do not have bodies to show,” said a senior force officer. It was informed that 219 battalion had been ‘deployed in Bheji since 2011 and was fully familiar with the area’. Reinforcements from the 219 battalion and 208 CoBRA (special force) battalion reached the spot on foot. “They had a Mine Protected Vehicle (MPV) but chose to walk as MPVs can be targeted”, said an officer. Since 2009, the CRPF has dragged its foot on procuring modern MPVs for its troops. Despite being authorized to procure 352 MPVs, the force is making its troops work with 120 old, poorly maintained vehicles.
Based on information from a variety of sources, it was learnt that troops from Company A (57 in all) and Company E (56 in all) under the command of a Deputy Commandant rank officer left their location at 8am near Bheji in Bastar’s Sukma district. Their task was to provide security for local contractors to construct roads. By 9:10am when they had covered about 1.8km from their camp, near a village named Bankupara, the Maoists detonated the Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) they had planted and began the episode. “They waited for the initial part of the troop body to enter a killing zone and then opened up. It was a trap. Our remaining troops did fire,” the officer added. The CRPF has launched a Court of Inquiry (CoI) to investigate all aspects of the ambush.
While Home Minister Rajnath Singh, Chief Minister Dr Raman Singh and others paid their tributes to the departed troops and visited the injured in the hospital, there were many who felt this was a manifestation of the larger issue. “We lack a strategy and coordination. If you look at the meticulousness it definitely points to the involvement of Hidma the dreaded Maoist commander,” said an officer. Another one noted, “Aiding road construction is a duty which can get monotonous and predictable. Was there laxity is something an inquiry can establish”. With the government not having appointing a full-time Director General (DG) for the CRPF since K Durga Prasad retired at the end of last month, Sudeep Lakhtakia, the acting DG will be visiting the site of the ambush on March 12.
March 11 has been a bloody date for the CRPF. In 2014, the force lost 11 men in Tahakwada in Sukma district to a Maoist ambush. In 2016, on the same day, the force suffered a double blow when Deputy Commandant BK Shyam Nivas was fatally wounded and Head Constable S Ranga Raghavan was martyred in an IED explosion the Maoist triggered in the same district.