By Ajit Kumar Singh
In a daring attack, Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) cadres killed at least 11 Security Force (SF) personnel and injured 54 in the forested terrain of the Dhardharia Hills under Senha Police Station of Lohardaga District in Jharkhand, on May 3, 2011. Unconfirmed reports indicate that nearly 500 landmines, planted in a serial circuit over a stretch of nearly two kilometers, were exploded during the nearly two hours attack, in which the Maoists also sprayed gunfire at the bewildered SF contingent. No casualties were reported among the Maoists.
A 150-strong SF squad, comprising Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), Jharkhand Jaguar, Jharkhand Armed Police (JAP) and District Armed Police personnel, were returning to base after a combing operation in Senha at around 10:15 AM, when they were waylaid at Urusake Road. In a complete role reversal, the Maoists used a public address system to ask the SF personnel to lay down arms. When the SF men refused to accede to the demand, the Maoists opened fire and simultaneously exploded landmines. Sources in the Police disclosed that the Maoist contingent was as strong as the SF squad, and used advanced firearms, such as INSAS [Indian Small Arms System] rifles and AK-47s. More than a thousand rounds were fired from both sides.
In another ambush in the State the same morning, a CRPF patrol had a close shave in Jhumra, about 113 kilometres from Bokaro. More than 1,100 rounds were exchanged between the CRPF personnel and some 50 rebels for over three hours. However, no casualties were reported in the incident.
Earlier, during the night of May 2, Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) Anand Joseph Tigga, leading a 100-strong Special Operations Group (SOG), was injured during a 15-minute encounter with 10 Maoists at Kankatta, a tribal village 50 kilometers from the State capital Ranchi. The Maoists retreated when the SOG retaliated.
These are only the most recent incidents in a continuous chain of Maoist attacks on SF personnel in Jharkhand. According to data compiled by the Institute for Conflict Management, 351 SF personnel have been killed in Jharkhand since March 11, 2001, out of a total of 1269 fatalities related to Maoist violence. Of these, 245 were killed in 35 major attacks (involving killings of three or more SF personnel) directly targeting the SFs. The numbers are more alarming in view of the escalation since 2004, after the creation of the CPI-Maoist, with a total of . 234 SF fatalities between 2005 and 2011.
Some of the most significant attacks on SFs in the state include:
February 28, 2011: Three Policemen, including an Assistant Sub Inspector, a Head Constable and a Home Guard, were killed and four others injured in a landmine blast triggered by the CPI-Maoist cadres in Chatra District.
July 16, 2010: Five Police personnel were killed and five were injured when CPI-Maoist cadres triggered a landmine, blowing up a patrol van carrying Jharkhand Jaguar Force personnel at Kutmu More in Latehar District.
June 12, 2009: CPI-Maoist cadres detonated a landmine in the Nawadih area of the Bokaro District, killing at least 11 SF personnel and injuring eight.
June 10, 2009: 11 Policemen, including a CRPF Inspector, were killed and another six were injured when CPI-Maoist cadres triggered a landmine explosion targeting their vehicle in West Singhbhum District.
August 30, 2008: 12 Police personnel were killed when the vehicle they were travelling in was blown up by a landmine in the East Singhbhum District.
December 2, 2006: 14 Police personnel were killed and another three injured in a landmine blast detonated by suspected CPI-Maoist cadres at Kanchkir in the Bokaro District.
June 1, 2006: At least 12 Police personnel were killed when CPI-Maoist cadres triggered a landmine in the West Singhbhum District.
October 8, 2005: 13 SF personnel were killed in a bomb blast triggered by the CPI-Maoist near Baniadih village in the Chatra District.
April 7, 2004: Naxalites triggered a landmine blast in the Saranda Forest area of Chaibasa in the West Singhbhum District killing 20 Policemen.
December 20, 2002: Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) cadres laid an ambush on a convoy of Police personnel at Bitkilsoya in the Saranda Forest under Manoharpur Police Station limits in West Singhbhum District, killing 18 Policemen and injuring 20 others.
May 7, 2002: 15 Police personnel were killed and another 10 were injured when MCC cadres blasted a landmine destroying a Police patrol van in Mthadih village under Satgawan Police Station limits in Koderma District. In the firing that followed, an MCC cadre was also killed. It was the second day of the three-day economic blockade called by the Naxalites to protest the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA).
October 31, 2001: MCC cadres killed 13 Police personnel at Topchanchi, 35 kilometers from Dhanbad. The Naxalites opened fire at the Police picket housed in the Topchanchi block office premises when the Police personnel were taking lunch.
October 4, 2001: Four Police personnel, including a DSP, were killed and four were seriously injured in a landmine blast triggered by Naxalites near Bargarh in Garhwa District.
September 23, 2001: 12 CRPF personnel were killed and another 15 were injured in a landmine blast triggered by the MCC in Hazaribagh District.
Despite innumerable attacks and significant loss of personnel, the SFs’ top brass appears to be failing to learn from past mistakes. Speaking about the Lohardaga incident, Jharkhand Director General of Police (DGP) Gauri Shanker Rath stated, on May 4, 2011, “The jawans (troopers) were trapped. The area is known to be highly mined. I don’t know what compelled them to venture into the forests.” He also expressed concern over intelligence gathering and cross verification of the intelligence. On May 9, he admitted that Operation Prahar (assault) had been poorly planned and that, “Due to poor planning on part of the officers leading the operation, we had to suffer major casualties.” CRPF Inspector General (IG) (Operations) Alok Raj conceded that the operation had been planned at the lower ranks and that there had been a ‘communication gap’.
Worse, while only four SF personnel died on location during the Lohardaga incident, the remaining seven SF fatalities occurred due to delays in evacuation and medical treatment. One Police constable, Jamshed Khan, complained, “Dukh iss baat ka hai ki char ghante jungle mein marne ke liye mereko chor diya gaya (I am sad because I was left unattended in the jungle for four hours).” “The helicopter reached as late as 4:00 PM. So, many lives were lost [due to this],” an unnamed CRPF trooper added. The DGP admitted, “At least six succumbed to their injuries as they didn’t get medical aid on time.” Though he blamed the delay on the remote location, the reality was that the helicopter stationed in Jharkhand was on a sortie in West Bengal’s Midnapore District during the operation. The lack of operational planning and co-ordination could not be more obvious.
However, despite this clear failure, CRPF Director General K. Vijay Kumar, insisted, “There was no lapse in the coordination and planning part and the jawans fought till the end and did not allow them [Maoists] to take away any weapons.” As is repeated after every debacle in different theatres of the struggle against Naxalism, including the disaster at Chintalnad, Kumar argued, “Every incident is a learning process and we will work out on the failures but we will bounce back.” Unfortunately, there appears to be no end to this sanguinary ‘learning process’.
Meanwhile, a May 19, 2011, report indicated that the Maoists have been trying hard to bring the four Districts of Dumka, Pakur, Godda and Sahebganj in the Santhal Parganas region under their control, which could give them access to West Bengal, Bihar and Bangladesh. Bangladesh is approximately 50 kilometers from Sahebganj. Intelligence sources also disclosed that the Maoists were keen to develop the Santhal Parganas Division as their gateway to India’s Northeast, where they are developing a nexus with other insurgent groups to source smuggled weapons and secure locations for training. Deputy Inspector General of Police (Dumka Zone) Vinay Kumar Pandey noted that the Maoists in the Santhal Parganas Division were presently in a ‘gestation period’.
A May 20, 2011, report indicated that the Maoists were exerting efforts to regain lost ground in the Dumaria, Dalma, Patamda and Bodam Blocks of East Singhbhum District. The IG (Kolhan Division) Naveen Kumar Singh noted, “The rebels are trying to gain a foothold in areas where they have suffered losses at the hands of security personnel. Our intelligence suggests that the Maoists are getting ready for a big operation in Dumaria, where they are terrorising villagers to join their fold.” Sharing the IG’s concern, the Commanding Officer of CRPF’s 7th Battalion, Sanjay Kumar Singh, stated, “According to our sources, the rebels have gathered in large groups on the Bengal border and are looking for an opportunity to enter the State. They have also held several meetings at villages like Koira, Chamta and Jhunjhka… This shows how desperate they are to terrorise people and regain lost territory.”
The DGP Rath continues to insist that “Operations are on and will continue till we are able to check extremism in the State and there is no question of slowing down of anti-Maoist operations.” He adds, further, “Jharkhand is in a war-like situation. It is not a one day battle. I am sure we will win the war.”
Unfortunately, the state’s operational responses have remained rudderless and ill planned, and unless there is a tremendous qualitative shift in strategic and tactical orientations, the SFs will continue to be effectively targeted by the Maoists, and future catastrophes will be inevitable.
Ajit Kumar Singh
Research Fellow, Institute for Conflict Management