Tag Archives: chhattisgarh police

Saturday’s Sukma ambush & the undoing of ‘Fighter Rao’

A snap of State Highway 5 in Sukma district
A snap of State Highway 5 in Sukma district

As the crow flies, hardly 5km separate Kasalpar and Pidmel in the southern Sukma, Chhattisgarh. More importantly, they both lie south of bombed and beaten State Highway 5, the Dornapal-Jagargonda road which is also the de-facto border south of which lies the ‘liberated’ territory, the very heart of India’s Maoist insurgency. It is a placement which anyone familiar with the region will tell you is outright deadly. What led 45-year-old ‘Fighter’ Rao, Sub Inspector Shankar Rao, a part of Special Task Force (STF), to lead an assault to Pidmel and invariably to the STF’s most miserable moment on Saturday morning is something most are not able to understand.

After all, Shankar Rao was well aware that barely four months ago, a 900-odd strong Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) party which included the specialist CoBRA commandos could not do much when challenged in Kasalpar. That party paid the price with the loss of fourteen of its men, their arms and of course, morale.

Back then, not openly though, the Chhattisgarh Police which did not want that operation, castigated the CRPF for attempting ‘Rambo-style’ operations. Today, it is unable to come to terms with what hit its STF which has had a much better track record than most in Bastar.

45-year-old STF Sub Inspector Shankar Rao
45-year-old STF Sub Inspector Shankar Rao

Rao perhaps had inkling.

On Friday night, the sub inspector had called the Personal Assistant to STF’s Deputy Inspector General (DIG) J Sharma. In the brief conversation told the PA, “Is baar aar paar ki ladhai hogi” (this will be a do or die kind of a battle) before hanging up. He was advised to wait. He also had a word with the local Sub Divisional Police Officer who told him to share his information and plan with the Superintendent of Police (SP) Sukma. He tried but poor communication links ensured he couldn’t.

Barely four days old at their location of Pollampalli, the STF bosses wanted to reinforce teams, add manpower before operations could be launched. Friday evening was not a time to hit. It was the time to familiarise and wait.

Based on information that was passed to Rao, he decided, he could wait any longer. That night, the 48 fellow members of the STF whom he commanded, he exhorted them to move. Despite the men from the local police being stationed along with the STF in Pollampalli, he did not ask them to join.

Following the tactics, the team marched and marvellously covered 18km in the thick of the night before making it to Karigundam. This was discovered with a degree of awe when those who survived were spoken to and their Global Positioning System (GPS) sets examined. “Only someone like Shankar Rao could have achieved the stealth, swiftness and stamina required to do what he did,” said Bastar Inspector General of Police, SRP Kalluri.

At 7:30am, the ‘tac’ headquarters of the STF got an ‘all ok’ signal from Shankar Rao’s team. This meant that while they had not scored, they were not hurt either.

Unknown to Rao and his superiors, the Maoists were tailing them all along.

Another message that the ‘tac’ headquarters received at 10:59am told them something had happened.

A senior officer said, “They had stopped for food near Pidmel. While they were consuming the dry ration, the Maoist enticed them by bringing before them two civilians and a uniformed cadre who had a weapon. This made Rao order his men to chase with Rao leading them all.”

Having negated the principle of commander always being in the middle of a party it was hardly a surprise that in the first shot that the Maoists fired after the STF entered the ambush, Shankar Rao was fatally hit.

Losing the commander can instil panic. Men from the STF, trained for situations like this one, emerged victorious albeit headless. The men picked up Rao’s body and were pulling out when they were attacked again. This time, they lost three more men. Picking up their bodies too, the now-45-member team began moving. Again, they were attacked. This time too they lost three men. Panic had begun setting in. To flee successfully was now the goal. They dropped all the seven bodies and fled.

“Had it been the police or the CRPF, the Maoists would have wiped out the entire party of 49. The entire ambush was 3km long. The STF men pulled out and in doing so ensured that of the seven dead bodies, the Maoists could only snatch weapons from three,” said a source.

As a result of this result, there is caution in the air. As such the Maoists are amidst, what they term Tactical Counter Offensive Campaign (TCOC) – a period coinciding with summer months when Maoists unleash violence and bleed the security forces.

Under Kalluri, police has chosen to consolidate their presence in the periphery rather than enter the core area directly. “There was no need to operate this way and that too here. Even STF on being deployed in such areas would atleast move with two parties,” said an officer.  “He knew what he was getting into. Don’t think of him as an irresponsible officer or a drunkard who took himself and his men down under influence,” said an officer who described Rao as a cautious teetotaller.

Perhaps Rao’s undoing lies among heaps of praises his actions would always earn him. “These officers who tell him all kinds of things and rightly so however one must remember that there is a thin line of difference between being brave and being foolhardy,” said a source.

http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/sukma-massacre-the-undoing-of-fighter-rao/1/429933.html

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WEEK AFTER SUKMA AMBUSH: Jawans who fought Maoists tell me, ‘700 of us couldn’t take on 100 Maoists, feeling appalled’

Article as appeared on December 7 in the MAIL TODAY newspaper
Article as appeared on December 7 in the MAIL TODAY newspaper

With a hint of anger in his blood-shot eyes, he revealed, “We were close to seven hundred. They were barely over a hundred. Yet we could neither save our colleagues or their weapons nor could we eliminate the rebels”. Rajat and three of his colleagues (names changed on request) were a part ‘Operation SS 14 (South Sukma)’ from the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) who faced off with the Maoists on Monday and lost fourteen of their men including two officers. They are presently awaiting their return to their original location.

While Rajat Kumar is a young ‘sipahi’, joined hardly two years ago, his colleagues are not. “Nothing is going to change. I am looking at completing twenty years of service and exiting with pension,” said Mahesh Raj, a constable. For the force that the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) wants to become the arrow head of India’s anti-Maoist effort, it is a difficult time. Those outside see it as fighting a difficult battle. Those inside have little hope of things improving.

By November 10, officers in various battalions were informed of a major, ‘four phase’ operation to be conducted later in the month. By November 15, personnel were sought from an array of battalions which included 74th, 150th, 201st & 206th CoBRA, team directly under Deputy Inspector General (DIG) CoBRA, team directly under Inspector General (IG) CRPF and 223th battalion. Before November 15, over 600 personnel had gathered at camps like Pollampalli, Kankerlanka and Puswada among others in Sukma.

“Our operations would take two nights and three days. We had nil intelligence. We would search, wander from one location to the other, expose ourselves to the Maoists and return,” said Rajat. It was reliably learnt that the operation has come under question from several quarters within the CRPF. When asked, the acting Director General RC Tayal had earlier commented, “The traditional area domination operations need to now change. We must hit the Maoists and operations need to be pinpoint, specific and swift.” As these operations progressed, on November 21, in its second phase, seven personnel were injured by the Maoists. Later, the third and fourth phases were merged into one and undertaken from November 29 to December 1.

On November 30, five of those who participated in the operations were detected with malaria and required immediate evacuation. However a Border Security Force (BSF) helicopter flew in on that day but did not land, citing unfit conditions. “We covered a hillock and slept there for the night. Next morning, you can say our operation had turned into one where we were only scurrying to detect a suitable landing spot for the helicopter,” said Pankaj Kumar, another constable.

As luck would have it, coordination with the helicopter fleet for such a massive operation was another debacle.

The IAF team at Jagdalpur readied itself to fly but all day the CRPF could not confirm just where to land till it was in the sunset range! “Helipad locations kept changing throughout. At 1610 hours, the fourth location came. And mind you, all along CRPF never uttered a word that there was an ambush. We got curious. Finally, at 1640hrs they asked us to go to evacuate their injured and we couldn’t because it was too late.The state government, despite repeated reminders has failed to install equipment which can allow us to land at night. Had they done that even at their Chintagufa camp, where the troops returned that night, we would have evacuated the injured,” said a MoD official.

Little of this means anything to these men on ground. “Forget malaria cases, even if the IAF/BSF had flown the next day when we asked them to on the day of the ambush, two of out men would have been alive today,” said Pankaj Kumar.

On ground, before all hell broke loose, all the team commanders were called to meet the IG at the ground zero. It was close to 9:30am. As the encounter began with firing from a ridge on to CRPF position near Kasalpad village, instead of fighting the hundred odd Maoists, different units of the CRPF were moving in different directions. “We still don’t know why many things happened the way they did. We did not act as one,” conceded an officer who was a key element of the entire operation.

Frustration written over his face, Rajat said, “We were looking for the Maoists all these days. We were tired but we wanted to finish them off because they had showed up finally. But when firing began we noticed that not all were fighting.” His colleague, Mahesh, quiet till now said, “In J&K, when militants show up, the entire area is cordoned and militants are not allowed to walk away like it happened here.”

The MHA has announced a slew of committees to investigate the lapses and review the CRPF’s functioning apart from the statutory Court of Inquiry (CoI).

An inspector who was watching the conversation flow said, “I have seen the CRPF for over 25 years. Never before has the force taken so many hits. We are being called upon to do the kind of work that militaries do yet we neither have that kind of training nor powers.”

BOX – WEAPONS MAOISTS LOOTED

  • 2000 AK47 rounds
  • 300 rounds INSAS Light Machine Gun
  • 30 Under Barrel Grenade Launchers
  • 10 AK47 rifles
  • 01 Self Loading Rifle
  • 01 INSAS LMG
  • 04 Bullet Proof Jackets
  • 01 GPS Set
  • 01 VHF Manpack set
  • 02 Binocular