Encounter bares anti-rebel drive obstacles


Calcutta, Oct. 19: Security forces today said anti-Maoist operations in Jungle Mahal had become “difficult” because of a freeze on such drives in the past five months and an information drought, the inferences drawn from yesterday’s encounter in West Midnapore in which no rebel could be arrested.

“Carrying out anti-Maoist operations is much more difficult now than five months ago,” a police officer said. “We could not arrest a single Maoist during our raid at Bankishole forest yesterday even though we had caught the rebels unawares. We had specific information that Maoist leaders Akash and Jayanta were holed up there but we could not arrest anybody,” he added.

The officer said that during earlier operations, before the Trinamul government’s freeze on such drives, top-rung leaders such as Sidhu Soren and Sasadhar Mahato had been gunned down.

Security officers said one of the main difficulties was lack of information about Maoist movements and bases.

“CPM cadres used to be our primary source of information and sometimes, our first line of defence. The cadres had set up armed camps in Jungle Mahal and used to keep watch on the rebels. We got most of our information from them. But the CPM cadres fled after the Assembly elections. The camps have also been dismantled. So our information flow has dried up,” the officer said.

The officer said the lull in operations had “compounded” the problem. “Because of this, the Maoists have returned to Jungle Mahal. They have again set up bases and are indoctrinating local youths. The rebels are having a field day,” he added.

The officer said the security forces had launched “massive operations against the Maoists in the last two years of the Left rule”. “The rebels were in disarray then. Most of the Maoists had fled from Jungle Mahal and had split up into small groups. But as no operations have taken place in the past five months, the Maoists have grabbed the opportunity to return and strengthen their position. Fighting them will be tougher now,” he said.

Security officers said it would take “about six months of sustained anti-Maoist operations to get close to the position of strength that we once enjoyed”.

The officers said the Maoists had “used the free access to plant mines along village roads”. “This has slowed down our movements considerably. We have received information that all roads leading to rebel bases are heavily mined. So we have to move very carefully on foot. Using vehicles entail greater risk,” the officer said.

The officers said the government’s decision to deny permission to Maoist frontal organisations to hold rallies in Jungle Mahal was also hindering operations.

“Earlier, we used to take photographs of those attending the rallies because most were Maoist sympathisers. Then we used to track their movements to get to frontline Maoist leaders and new recruits. But an unofficial ban has been imposed on such rallies after the new government was criticised in one of them,” another officer said.

“Without photographs, it is almost impossible to differentiate between an ordinary villager and a Maoist,” he added.

The police hope the chief minister will allow operations such as the one yesterday on a regular basis so that the Maoist grip can be loosened.

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