Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Cops in their labyrinth

The Naxal have shifted the focus of their activities from Andhra and Chhattisgarh to the woods flanking the Malkangiri district of Orissa where they have found a safe haven. They have moved from the deep interiors to towns and are now dropping hints of making inroads into the coastal towns in and around the state capital, Bhubaneswar. Why rule out Bhubaneswar being the target on any given day ?

But, is the administration bothered? Nobody knows.

The series of onslaughts from the ultras on the police have left no room for excuse the Orissa government. The memories of the blitzkriegs that have followed one after the other, remain equally nightmarish for the ones who had lost their relatives and for those who are in the firing line.

The government machinery on the other hand has never shown the required seriousness, neither in the past nor the present about fighting the menace. Over 15 districts in Orissa have been infested by Naxalites.

During the last six months alone we have lost a whopping 73 security personnel to the Naxal bullets. Almost all the incidents have been one-sided affairs. The ultras targeted and killed the unaware security forces like sitting ducks.

The most bizzare of these incidents was the one that took place very recently in the Kalimela police range in Malkangiri. The incident has really shaken the morale of the forces. The death dramas carry on in the infested areas and, undisputedly, the cause of the defeats of the security forces is the failure of intelligence network. We fear, we apprehend, but we never act; and this has remained the attitude of the police administration that works in tandem with a lackadaisical political system.

But, it seems, the foot soldiers in the police set-up have now readied themselves to confront the realities. It could not have been more clearly manifested than in what happened the other day in Malkangiri.

When the bodies of the 17 slain security personnel were laid for the floral tributes and the guard of honour, a unanimous chorus of protest was heard. The bottomliners warned the range DIG not to enter the ring. ' You are not needed here' was the swipe. Subsequently, the local Police Superintendent was also asked to stay away from the guard of honour ceremony.

It was apparent that in the eyes of the forces who take on the Naxals everyday, the top cops ensconced in the comforts of their air-conditioned offices, either in Bhubaneshwar or at the district headquarters, always appear at the place of incident – like the police in Bollywood films – after the damage is done. Nor are they ready anymore to derive any consolation from the unsolicited tears of their bosses. The voice of resentment is loud and clear if the top cops are ready to hear.

If we look at the series of incidents of the last five months it becomes evident that the lameduck police network has never risen to the occasions despite adequate warnings from the ultras. In the month of February this year over 150 Maoists arrived in Nayagarh town of Orissa near the main police station and lined up the police personnel like a ' barat ' party and sprayed them with bullets. 16 cops were instantly killed.

They also looted the district armoury before leaving the town with ease. Loaded in ten vehicles, all of them travelled about 100 kms the same night by road before reaching the Gosma hill in Kondhmal district where they camped for another 3 days. During their stay they almost butchered three cops in response to a suicidal combing attempt from the police. The operation took place while the senior officers in-charge of the Gosma operation were in a virtual hide-out in a rest house about 40 kms from the Gosma hill.

It is yet to be established who masterminded such a foolish combing operation when the ultras were at the hill top with LMGs lined up and the combing cops down below without any protection.

On June 30 this year 38 Greyhound Commandos from Andhra Pradesh, and two state police personnel were killed while returning from a combing operation in boats near Chitrakonda reservoir in Malkangiri district. The state police quickly blamed the guest commandos for tactical lapses that led to the killings.

The police did not realize that the ultras were hiding in the flanking hills and were able to carry out the carnage from the top with LMGs. Next is the incident of July 17 that claimed the lives of 17 security men.

Like always, this time too the state government has asked the state's DGP to submit a report on this incident. It is a peculiar trend of police probes into possible lapses that the outcomes never see the light of the day. They know well that the Naxals, after their disillusionment in Andhra, had shifted their focus to Dantewada in Chhatishgarh and have finally found a safe haven in Malkangiri. The reason is obvious, Orissa police network appeared the most vulnerable to them.

The latest landmine blast was again in the Balimela region in Malkangiri, which blew off an anti-landmine vehicle carrying 17 security personnel. This incident is an indicator of the edge the ultras enjoy over our security forces. It seems the state government would wait till the extremists come to the state capital before they act.

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