The latest flash-point between The People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army or naxals in the Lakhisarai forests of Bihar is a tell-tale indicator of the state of preparedness of the Indian police and para-military forces to combat the rapidly expanding Maoist insurgency. According to Home Minister P Chidambaram, 223 districts across 20 states (out of a total of 636 districts in 28 states and seven Union Territories) are thus affected. General VP Malik in a recent write-up described this as follows: “A situation of “consistent violence” exists in about 400 police station areas of 90 districts in 13 states.
The Maoists have threatened that they would “expand their activities to wider areas, mobilise wider masses, gather new momentum and get new dynamism” in the wake of multi-state counter-insurgency operations launched against them. In recent months, no week has passed without an armed encounter or a casualty. In 2009, there were 998 fatalities, 312 of them police personnel. The fatalities this year have already crossed 885, which include over 200 policemen. The number of policemen who have laid down their lives is very large when compared to the success achieved in such encounters.”
Operation Green Hunt has laid bare the complete inadequacy of India’s Police
Four Bihar policemen – Tete, Abhay Kumar Yadav, Rupesh Kumar Sinha and Ehsan Khan – were kidnapped by Maoists after a six-hour gunfight in Lakhisarai district Aug 29, in which seven policemen were killed and 10 injured. Maoists claimed the gunfight was in retaliation for the killing of their leader Cherukuri Rajkumar alias Azad and a journalist on the night of July 1-2 in Andhra Pradesh.
The rebels threatened that the policemen would be killed unless eight jailed Maoist leaders were released. A day after rebels said that they had killed one of the abducted policemen, Tete’s body was found in a jungle in Lakhisarai on Sep 3.
The other three were released on Sep 6. Eight days after the three police personnel were released unharmed the Bihar Police claimed that it had arrested a Maoist, Boro Koda, suspected to be the killer of the fourth abducted policeman, Lucas Tete. Bihar Police chief Neelmani said that Boro Koda was arrested from Lakhmipur area in Jamui district.
- According to the statistics provided by the state police headquarters, 86 policemen and 188 civilians lost their lives in various Maoists attacks in Bihar since 2005. Between 2006-2009, 50 Maoists were killed by police in the state and the Maoists looted 132 police weapons during the period. The Bihar government says 33 of the 40 police districts in the state are “naxal-hit”. The Maoists attack this year started with a strike on a Bihar Military Police (BMP) camp in Bhagalpur. Four police personnel were critically wounded and the Maoists took away four SLRs, two carbines, three hand grenades and 500 rounds of ammunition.
- On February 13, Maoists killed a Station House Officer (SHO) Mithlesh Prasad in an encounter in Konch police station area in Gaya district. Four Naxalites were also killed.
- On February 17, Maoists killed eleven villagers at Fulwaria village in Jamui district and torched a police jeep in Gaya.
- On March 23, the ultras killed a private guard Wakil Singh and a driver at a toll plaza under Mahapur under Gaya district and also looted 25 rifles.
- On the same day, they attacked a police patrol and critically wounded SHO Virendra Yadav and six Special Auxiliary Police (SAP) personnel at Belsand in Sitamarhi district and injured two SAP personnel in Sheohar district.
- Five villagers were killed and another injured at Rambanvillage in Sheohar district on May 21. On June 3, two Naxalites were killed by Maoists in Baghel jungle in Munger district.
- On August 13, Maoists kidnapped a close aide of the Bihar Assembly Speaker, Udai Narain Choudhary but later let him off but not before assaulting him severely.
- In 2009, 384 naxalites were arrested, and 105 weapons, 14,808 rounds of ammunition, 6833 kg explosive, 11,319 detonators, 56 landmines and Rs 6,81,148 in cash were seized from them.
“My family negotiated with the naxals for my release.”
These statistics clearly show that the Bihar police does not have the gumption or training to take on the Maoist insurgents. I am pleading you with folded hand, please let me go home. I will not accompany you to the police station. I don’t want to be in police. This is what Abhay Yadav told Lakhisarai Superintendent of Police, Ranjit Kumar Mishra after his release by the PLGA cadres on September 6th.
Eventually Lakhisarai’s recently appointed SP forced Abhay, Rupesh Sinha and Mohmmad Ehsan Khan, to take a detour to the Lakshisarai police station for a debrief session. These policemen survived an eight-day ordeal as captives of the People’s Liberation Guerilla Army (PLGA) in the Lakhisarai hills. PLGA is the armed wing of the Communist Party of India (Maoist) and is popularly referred to as ‘naxals’. It is unlikely that Abhay will give up his job. Employment in the government service, especially police, is a coveted job because it brings in unaccounted wealth. “I want to leave my job. But my family will decide,” Abhay told Indian Defence Review. “Dheeraj Rakhiye” (Please be patient), these words were used every time a senior police officer spoke to policemen in the lower ranks. But each expression of “Dheeraj Rakhiye” brought despair and a sense of inadequacy to policemen in Lakhisarai, Jamui, Munger and Banka. In some portions of the densely forested hills connecting these districts several teams of Bihar Police and the CRPF staged short bursts of combing operations to trace the kidnapped policemen. Some policemen, like Jawaharlal Singh, assistant sub-inspector, Jamui police station and General Secretary of the Jamui District Police Association berated curious villagers: “Your netas (political leaders) are responsible for naxalism. They create the problem, they use naxals for political one-upmanship and we have to face the brunt of it.”
“I feel like leaving the force.”
Several policemen, overwhelmed by the killing of Lukas Tete, admitted that the writ of the government runs dry across a large swathe of Lakhisarai. Tete was killed when the state government refused to release eight imprisoned naxal commanders. But what will I do if I leave? How will I earn? My family wants me to quit police service. But when I am jobless and unable to provide for my family, will they treat me well? asked Rajendra Prasad, sub-inspector, Kajra police station. This police post is hardly 15 kilometres from the spot where four policemen were kidnapped after a skirmish with the naxals on August 29, in which seven policemen were killed and 10 injured.
The pressure mounted by the Yadav community on caste leaders within
the PLGA led to the release of Abhay.
With the state government failing to put a rescue plan in action, Abhay’s father, Indu Prasad Yadav, contacted his caste brethren linked to PLGA commander and self-styled spokesperson for naxal operations in eastern Bihar, Avinash, alias Arjun Yadav. “The appeal made by all political parties, including RJD’s Lalu Prasad Yadav made a difference. The government did nothing,” said Sambhu Yadav, Abhay’uncle, who received the three captive policemen at Simra Rari, a naxal-held region of Lakhisarai.
They are not led by officers who lead from the front.
“Why should we fight the naxals when we know politicians pay them several lakhs of rupees every month?”asks Jawaharlal Singh, ASI, Jamui Police Station. Policemen in Bihar don’t want to fight the naxals. They have AK-47 and INSAS Rifles but aren’t trained for jungle warfare. They admit that the naxal tactics are superior to theirs. “Why would a policeman want to die in the line of duty? I joined the police because it gives me power, influence and prestige. These villagers come to me because I am a bada babu (influential and high ranking officer). I joined for law and order duties, not engage naxals in combat?” confessed Atul Kumar Mishra, the Station House Officer(SHO) of Chanan police station. He was waiting for the Banu Bagicha village chowkidar to return from the Morve Dam area, a stronghold of the naxals, after the naxals announced that they would free the hostages. Every rural police circle in Bihar has 23 village chowkidars who are paid Rs 1,200 and used as police informers and spotters. Mishra camping at Banu Bagicha’s defunct and unused Block Office felt insecure in spite of 25 well armed SAP personnel accompanying him.
Policemen in naxal-dominated areas have an informal standard operating procedure. First, stay out of areas which have naxal presence. Second, after 6pm, ensure that the police station they are holed up in is well protected from naxal attack. The idea is not to fight back, but ensure that they don’t lose their lives if there is a naxal attack. “I have trained 30 stray dogs. They don’t allow anyone inside the premises after dusk”, said the SHO. So post 6pm any crime within a police station’s jurisdiction goes unattended till day-break.
Prasad at the Kajra police station can’t shake off his gloomy and introspective mood. He said: “We have no comforts. We don’t have a place to stay. Several police stations in naxal-dominated areas are functioning from dilapidated, rented buildings. This police station used to be a Congress party office. We built our barrack by raising funds from the residents of Kajra. Our welfare must be taken care of to enable us to get mentally attuned to combat duty.” Besides, the policemen are trained for regular policing duties and not for combat operations. “I went through police training twenty five years ago. Since then I haven’t had the opportunity to retrain and re-skill. I can aim and shoot, but don’t know what to do in a combat situation. I am not trained for jungle warfare. How can I survive an encounter with the naxals in the jungles?” asked Prasad.
“We cannot fight and win this war. We are not trained…”
We don’t know the terrain because we are engaged in law and order duties. Our men don’t want to go into jungles, climb mountains and bust the naxal hide-outs. The naxals have superior weapons and tactics. They dominate the regions they control, admitted Mishra. During the tense waiting period on September 4th and 5th for the release of the captive policemen, senior police officers repeatedly barked instructions to middle level police officers: “Do not leave your police stations and venture into areas controlled by naxals. Send the village chowkidars as look-outs.”
The policemen in Bihar are seething with anger. They said: “We will lose our jobs because service rules prohibit us from telling the truth.” There are a lot of uncertainties to be afraid of. Their nervousness was palpable when the said: “What if we are ordered into combat without any planning? Death is certain.” The sight of their dead colleagues provoked the BMP personnel to thrash the former Lakhisarai SP, Ashok Singh, for pushing them into a naxal ambush. Senior police officials, including IG (Operation) KS Dwivedi and ADG (Headquarters) PK Thakur denied that the Singh was assaulted by BMP personnel. Denials notwithstanding, Singh was transferred out of Lakhisarai three days after the incident.
“For ten days prior to the August 29 encounter we were alerted almost every day by intelligence reports of a Jehanabad-type attack in Lakhisarai. There are several naxals imprisoned in the Lakhisarai jail. We were told that naxals would attempt a jail break, attack the District Magistrate’s office and the CRPF camp at Kajra,” a distressed sub-inspector of Kajra police station, Rajendra Prasad, revealed. This was corroborated by the commandant of CRPF’s 131 battalion, Bidhan Chandra Patra: “Superintendent of Police, Ashok Singh, told me that he received an intelligence input about thirty naxals moving in the Lakhisarai forest. He said there was no specific input, just a generic alert and that he was putting together a team to conduct area domination exercise and get back. There was no intimation of the possibility of a gun-battle. So I passed instruction to assemble a team of 34 CRPF soldiers.”
Police personnel found it difficult to crawl in corn fields.
Singh put together a small force of 43 policemen, 20 from the Special Auxiliary Police (SAP) and 23 from the Bihar Military Police to launch combat operations. “Our intelligence input said that there were at least 500 naxals in the hills. But the SP, in an unusually strange decision, put together a small combat force,” revealed Prasad. Bhulan Yadav, a sub-inspector killed in the encounter, was inexperienced in counter-insurgency operations. Yet, he was deputed as the leader of the loosely created combat team. Mishra, a close friend of Bhulan, was the last person to receive his call. “Bhulan called asking me to inform the SP to send reinforcements. Then his phone disconnected abruptly. I called back repeatedly but could not get through,” said Mishra. He further added: “All the personnel of SAP are ex-Army soldiers familiar with counter-insurgency tactics. They instinctively take lying position and crawl when they come under fire. Bhulan tried to crawl, but couldn’t. He gave up and tried to take cover behind a tree, but was shot in the eye.”
Mishra and Prasad revealed that Singh did not follow the SOP laid down after the Dantewada massacre. “A detailed strategy is formulated, GPS coordinates are set before the force begins its movement. But Ashok Singh did not make any plan,” Mishra told Indian Defence Review. He further said: “He knew that we were operating in undulating, hilly and forested terrain. He knew the topography. He should have been aware, after the recent ambushes in Chattisgarh wherein naxals occupied higher ground and lured the policemen into a trap.” CRPF commandant Patra concurred: “the SOP was not followed. Once force is assembled the commanders discuss the terrain, topography and intelligence. This is explained to the troops using sand models and survey of India maps.”
CRPF troops withdrew instead of retaliating.
Bhulan’s inexperience in combat operations resulted in splitting up of the combat team along two different directions. He asked the CRPF contingent to move towards the right and patrol the Ghaghar Ghati area and Morve Dam, while he moved with his policemen towards Kanimai and Sitala Kodasi adivasi villages surrounded on both sides by 300 feet high densely forested hills. As the police party moved into the villages, they came under heavy fire from both sides.” Bihar police officers claim that when their men were ambushed the CRPF did not provide covering fire to rescue the trapped policemen. “Our men regained higher ground to provide covering fire, which enabled 36 policemen to escape,” asserted Patra.
It is rare for a SP to go out for operational, combat duty.
The fact that the Bihar Police personnel surrendered is hardly mentioned or recalled. “After we came under heavy fire the naxals kept announcing that we should surrender or else everyone would get killed. We surrendered because the CRPF withdrew,” said Abhay. “They treated the injured, bandaged those who were wounded, gave water to those who asked for it and asked them to leave. They collected all the weapons and asked four of us to accompany them into the jungle.” Later, the naxals informed local journalists that they had seized 35 Insas and AK-47 rifles. The Bihar police is facing a severe crisis of confidence. According to protocol a deputy commandant of CRPF is equivalent to the rank of a Superintendent of Police. Yet, “Officers don’t lead, they just pass orders. If senior officers do not lead us on combat duty why should we put our lives in danger?” asked Yadav.
The EN Rammohan inquiry commission report on the April 6th massacre of 75 CRPF personnel and a Chattisgarh police constable in Dantewada strongly recommended seamless operational coordination and intelligence-sharing between the CRPF and the state police. It is important to recall that among the four counts on which the Home Ministry has sought action against two Chattisgarh police officers, IG Longkumer and SP, Amaresh Mishra, was about an intelligence input about presence of Naxals in Mukram forests not being shared with the CRPF. Since, the Dantewada and Lakhisarai incidents are similar, why isn’t the Union Home Ministry and the Bihar Government instituting an enquiry against the former Lakhisarai SP, Ashok Singh?
“We wish naxals had taken politicians hostage.”
“We wish naxals had taken politicians hostage” said Naresh Kumar, teacher, Janta Mahavidyalaya, Surajgarha. Naresh emphasises his primary identity is that of a farmer. Surrounded by friends and villagers of Alinagar, Naresh, he loses himself in tirade filled with venom for Bihar’s politicians.
“India Can Win Kargil, Not this War.”
The situation was best summed up by the SHO of Chanan police station: “India can win the Kargil war, not this war, not this way.”