a dramatic rise in Naxal violence, and this week’s incidents prove that little is being done to contain it.
It was a warm April afternoon. Humidity rose like a blanket from the jungles around Murkinar, a small hamlet in Dantewada district, Chhattisgarh. Murkinar has two claims to fame: it has a police post on the side of the road and it is linked by a bus that plies between this hamlet and Bijapur, a nearby town.
As usual, villagers were waiting at the bus stop when the bus trundled to a stop. Suddenly, the bus stop was seething with people, mostly men holding bags. Passengers — Gond tribals with their weekly haul from the forest — were told to disembark and the men boarded the empty bus and ordered the driver to drive on.
At 3:00 in the afternoon, the police post was inhabited by
constables trying to catch forty winks, dressed only in lungis and vests. No one paid any attention to the bus – until the men inside began firing at the police station with light machine guns. The Naxalites killed 11 policemen like they would shoot clay pigeons, kicked the bodies aside and loaded all the weapons and ammunition they could find into their bags. Then the bus drove off again and the Naxals melted into the forest.
This was the story narrated to Brig Basant Kumar Ponwar, Inspector General of Police, Chhattisgarh, and a veteran of Army
counter-insurgency operations who is currently involved in training policemen to handle guerilla operations.
“One hundred and seventy districts over 13 states are currently under the influence of the Naxals, though in some states the pockets are small and have been contained. Our interrogations and materials obtained from raids indicate that the target of this group is to bring, by 2010, 30-35 per cent of India under their sway. In order to prevent incidents like Murkinar, India has to train at least 10,000-20,000 policemen in counter-insurgency tactics. This is no small task,” he said on the phone from Bastar.
The two-day shock and awe campaign earlier this week by Naxals all over India to protest the “imposition” of special economic zones (SEZs) and the government’s economic policies has had the desired effect. Naxal actions were calculated to be conspicuous and loud. In West Bengal’s Purulia district, about 50 guerrillas set fire to the station master’s room at Biramdih railway station at around 1:30 am. The attack destroyed the signalling system. Biramdih — on the Jharkhand-West Bengal border — is 285 km from Kolkata. Train services between Bihar and Jharkhand, including the state capitals Patna and Ranchi, were cancelled.
In Chhattisgarh, public transport went off the roads and movement of iron ore from Dantewada district’s Bailadila hills to Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh was halted. Maoists blocked interior pockets of Bastar, Bijapur, Narayanpur, Dantewada and Kanker districts by placing wooden logs on the roads. Primitive tactics? Maybe, but no one dared remove the logs.
It isn’t just the intensity of the Maoist rage with the system (in their most spectacular attack on a police post in Rani Bodli, 55 policemen were killed, but what shocked the people was that some policemen who had obviously surrendered were also killed — axed to death, their decapitated heads placed neatly by the side of their bodies). It is also that they will not be ignored any more.
Over a two day-campaign, in Jharkhand alone, official estimates put the losses at around Rs 150 crore. The railways lost Rs 30 crore due to cancellation of goods and passenger trains and damage to property — in Latehar district they burnt two engines and damaged 12 goods train bogies.
Around 1,500 buses did not ply during these two days, causing a loss of Rs 1.5 crore. Trucks stood idle, leading to a loss of Rs 3 crore. Coal and iron ore production and transport was disrupted, leading to losses of around Rs 60 crore. In Jharkhand, export-import businesses had to shut down for virtually...