At work for war
Maoists, state begin drill
PRONAB MONDAL IN LALGARH AND OUR BUREAU
June 17: Late last night, at a small camp in Lalgarh’s Kantapahari, six Maoists held a meeting when word reached that central forces had started arriving in Midnapore.
The meeting, headed by Bikash who runs the Maoists’ Lalgarh operations and guided over the phone apparently by Kishanji who heads their armed wing in the country, decided to set up the first line of defence by this morning.
The task was completed by the time home secretary Ardhendu Sen arrived in Midnapore to review the situation in Lalgarh.
By 9am, the only two arterial roads leading to Lalgarh from Midnapore town, capable of carrying heavy vehicles, had been dug up at 11 points. Each trench across the road was 4ft deep and 3ft wide, making it impossible for any vehicle to cross over.
The Maoists bragged of a more diabolical plan, too. If the police smash through the defences and reach Lalgarh, the rebels said, they would have a four-tier barricade in place.
In the first layer, there will be children, followed by women. Tribals armed with bows and arrows will bring up the third layer. Armed Maoists will position themselves in the fourth layer, they said, seemingly oblivious to the macabre irony in the “people’s war”.
Aware of the plan, chief secretary Asok Mohan Chakrabarti appealed to the people of Lalgarh not to allow themselves to be used as “human shields”. Police sources later said they would try to disperse the shields using rubber bullets and tear gas.
By the end of the day, the state government, too, announced that it would act. But the time of the launch is being kept confidential, not for tactical reasons alone — the state government has yet to overcome its indecisiveness.
After returning to Calcutta, Sen announced: “An operation against the Maoists will take place. It will be led by state police with the central forces providing the back-up. Our main aim will be to ensure minimum bloodshed. But I cannot reveal when it will take place.”
Sources said 18 companies would be involved in the operation, of which 13 will be central forces and five from the state police.
Each company has about 100 policemen who can go into action — which means around 1,800 personnel will be pitted against the Maoists. The rebels’ number is put at 250 but more guerrillas are said to be moving towards Lalgarh from Orissa and Jharkhand. Kishanji has apparently reached Belpahari, 20km from Lalgarh. Besides, the Maoists are counting on some of the villagers they have trained since November last year.
The police sources said it would not be a “swift and short” operation. “We know the area is mined and dug up, so we have to move forward carefully,” an officer said. “We will have a minesweeper at the head of the convoy and a truck carrying sandbags along with us. After the minesweeper has cleared the way, we will bridge the dug-up roads with the sandbags and then move on.”
The officer said the objective would be to “reoccupy” an area, consolidate their position there and then push forward. The plan is largely in tune with the tactics being focused upon since P. Chidambaram took over as home minister at the Centre.
In the police’s arsenal will be AK-47 and AK-56 rifles, grenade launchers and rocket launchers. Senior police officers from Calcutta, like IG (co-ordination), have moved to Midnapore.
The rebels acknowledge the police’s superiority in firepower and supply of ammunition but said they were banking on familiarity with the terrain and local support.
It was not possible to verify the claims by the Maoists. At every dug-up point, the Maoists said, they would be setting up “checkposts” which will be guarded by “50 to 60” armed supporters.
“They will all have cellphones and at the first sign of any activity, they will warn other checkposts along the way,” a Maoist leader said.
Knowing that the policemen will be wearing bulletproof jackets, the Maoist cadres have been trained to shoot at the face, arms and legs, another leader said.
If the police decide to skip the arterial roads and use forest trails, they may have to abandon armoured vehicles while ferrying themselves across the Kangshabati river in the absence of bridges.
The five CRPF companies stayed put at the Midnapore police lines today, drawing up maps to chalk out operational routes.