Naxals take train hostage

CRPF reclaims control of Rajdhani Express; no trade-off

Naxals take train hostage



Ending a five-hour high-voltage drama, security forces on Tuesday secured control of the New Delhi-Bhubaneswar Rajdhani Express from armed Maoists and their local sympathisers at a desolate station near Jhargram in West Bengal’s West Midnapore district.

Officials in charge of the operation said all the passengers and the drivers of the prestigious high-speed train were reported to be safe despite the ordeal they underwent during the unprecedented siege.

Later in the evening, a special engine, top railway officials said, set off from Jamshedpur for Banstala station, a few kilometres from Jhargram, to pilot the Rajdhani away from that location to Jamshedpur.

“This was done to ensure the safety of the passengers as the pilot engine would prevent any damage to the Rajdhani coaches in case there was bomb or other explosive material planted on the tracks by the ultras,” an official told Deccan Herald here.

Home Ministry sources claimed the Centre and the West Bengal governments “acted in unison, not yielding to any possible trade-off demand”.

They suggested a toughening of stance against the spate of Maoists attacks against government property and personnel. Union Home Secretary G K Pillai said the Maoists fled the scene when the CRPF contingent reached the spot.

Once the driver was released, Union Home Minister P Chidambaram said “all passengers are safe.”

“No CRPF personnel was injured and a relief train will move in the next few minutes from a nearby station”. He said  there was some firing and a civilian driver was injured.

But the Maoists’ brazen act of abducting and holding the Rajdhani driver, demanding in exchange the release of one of their compatriots, Chhatradhar Mahato, a local Naxal leader, comes less than a week after they captured a police officer whose release the Left Front government could secure by releasing 22 Maoist cadres.

Embarrassment

Apart from proving to be a huge embarrassment, Tuesday’s incident exposed the weaknesses in the West Bengal government’s so-called counter-insurgency strategy.
This is the first time post-Independence that armed Leftwing radicals took entire control, however briefly, of a high-speed train to hold the passengers and drivers to ransom for nearly five hours to press for settlement of their “demands”, drawing unprecedented national attention and exposing in the process gaping holes in the security and intelligence network.

After a brief stopover at Howarh, the New Delhi-bound train was halted by hundreds of armed activists belonging to the People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities (PCAPA), a pro-Maoist organisation representing local tribals of Jhargram and its nearby areas.
Train driver K Anantha Rao had to apply emergency brakes when he noticed a tree trunk blocking the track at Banshtala, 10 km from Jhargram station, railway officials said.

Mahato arrest

Armed with spears, bows and arrow, and rods, PCAPA cadres stormed the drivers’ cabin, ordering them to detrain for flouting the bundh which they claimed was in force since Tuesday morning in West Midnapore district and its adjoining areas to protest the arrest of Chhatradhar Mahato and continued presence of forces in the region.

According to Santosh Patra, who took over PCPA's leadership after Mahato’s arrest, the drivers were in the group's custody but he denied they were kidnapped.

“They have not been abducted or harmed. They are with us at Banshtala as we have nothing against them. We will release them shortly,” Patra told a vernacular TV channel here.

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