Return of the Red terror

Maoist attack: Was intelligence failure a cause for colossal loss of lives ?

Return of the Red terror

The May 25 ambush by Maoists in Darbha Ghati is the worst-ever in terms of targeting the political leadership as it literally wiped out key leaders of the poll-bound Chhattisgarh.

It also shattered the claim that the peace has returned to the state. The attack has clearly demonstrated that the Red terror has returned to the state, which has witnessed many violent incidents in the last few years.  The attack in Bastar district, closer to Odisha and Andhra Pradesh border, is significant as the Maoists have regrouped and it also indicated that they are bent upon subverting the poll process.

The blame game has begun and tuh-tuh mein mein has seen both the BJP and the Congress showing an accusing finger at each other for the incident that left at least 26 people, including top Congress leaders Mahendra Karma, Nand Kumar Patel, Dinesh Patel and Uday Mudaliyar, dead. The Congress has been citing that law and order is a state subject and the Raman Singh government has failed in its duty while the BJP is pointing fingers to the Centre saying adequate forces have not been given.

The devastation, with a couple of vehicles flying to a  distance of several metres and nearly eight feet deep crater formed on the road, is a clear indication that it was a meticulously planned attack and there was a total intelligence failure.

“One look at ground zero, one would understand that each curve on the road is an ambush point as the vehicles have to slow down and overtaking another vehicle on this highway is almost impossible. The terrain on the other side is suitable for a guerilla attack making the convoy a sitting duck,” an officer said explaining large number of fatalities.
One could conclude that extra care should have been taken to sanitise the area, something the police are aware of as senior politicians and VIPs regularly use the stretch to reach Sukma from Jagdalpur.

Experts feel that Maoists would have camped there for at least five days to plant the explosives. An estimated 30 kg explosives were used to cause devastating effect.  “Normally in situations like this, there is a prior meeting between security officials where the superintendent of police and the paramilitary commandant are present,” said a senior security official. This crucial meeting, however, did not take place this time.

The rule book says that there should have been a road domination exercise before VIP movement, followed by deputation of police personnel at various locations, including the probable ambush points and culverts if any. Congress Party spokesperson Shailesh Nitin Trivedi, pointing out the indifferent attitude of the police, said that he has seen no uniformed person on the ghat road from Sukma to Jagdalpur.

The experts blame the Chhattisgarh police, which has 30,000-strong para military force under its command, for its failure to anticipate and provide adequate security to the convoy.  Deploring casual approach in dealing with the Maoist menace, a former police official said: “How can Bastar SP Mayank Srivatsava (who is now suspended) say that he was not aware of Mahendra Karma’s presence at the public meeting as Karma is under Z plus category.”

Besides, the Chhattisgarh Police have a lot of questions to answer, said a former ADG of Maoist operations. The Maoist attack took place at Jeeram Ghati, a narrow 7-km stretch at the entry point of Darbha Ghati, an ideal place for an ambush. “But where was the mobilisation of forces and sanitisation. In the neighbouring Andhra Pradesh sanitisation is routinely done whether the convoy belongs to the ruling or opposition party,” the officer seeking anonymity said.

National People’s Party leader Arvind Netam wondered “Jeeram is located between Darbha and Tongpal police stations. Mobilising forces even after Karma joined the rally would have saved lives.” Congress workers feel forces could have been mobilised from these stations. The other critical question that has not been answered so far is about the Z plus security cover of Mahendra Karma, the former leader of the Opposition and founder of Salwa Judum. “Where was the Z plus team,” Rajkumar Gupta of Chhattisgarh Swabhiman Manch asked.

The attack and regrouping of Maoists in tribal belts seem to be proving the government’s claims on development as hollow. Such an audacious attack could not have been carried out without the support of local people. This is clearly contradicts  the government’s claims that the developmental work initiated by it had weaned away tribals from Maoists, a political analyst said.

Was it complacency or intelligence failure, the judicial inquiry will definitely reveal, the analyst added.

The development plank, with which the chief minister entered Bastar, has taken a severe beating with the Maoist attack on Congress party convoy killing 26 on the fateful day. “Actually the number of civilian deaths in the hands of Maoists was only 33 this year till the Darbha ghat incident occurred,” said the expert in Maoist affairs Prakash Chandra Hota.  The number was as high as 343 in 2010 and declined to 204 in 2011 and then to 109 in 2012.

The increased political activity in the hinterland of the Maoist bastion has probably perturbed its leadership which is hungry to avenge the death of their leader Kishenji,” Hota said, toeing the line of the chief minister who at the all-party meeting urged the Congress not to stop its yatra as it would only embolden the ultras.

A few days after the ambush on the convoy, the CPI (Maoist) has already announced a new hit list threatening to eliminate 15 people, including that of the Salwa Judum.

Ruling out an insiders hand in the Congress, Hota said that the Maoists always search for the target and eliminate it. “I don’t see the hand of either Ajit Jogi or local MLA Kawasi Lakhma in changing the route in the last minute.” Moreover, Kawasi is a tribal and is not in their hit list. The Maoists allowed him to leave as killing a local leader would have a negative impact on the tribal psyche and the repercussions of killing him would have been massive,” Hota said in support of his theory that Maoists had planned and executed the never-before attack on any political outfit in the history of the country.

       The attack has virtually left the Congress leaderless in the state. The Congress was too shocked at the developments.  Party Vice President Rahul Gandhi rushed to Raipur hours after the attack. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi rushed to Raipur to console the families of the victims.

The Congress wanted to send the message to its workers that the party was strongly behind them and they should gear up for the elections, a few months away from now.
According to sources, the Congress president was furious at the lack of adequate security provided by the state government to party leaders and officials from the state administration had a tough time in defending itself.

The BJP, in a sort of damage control, suspended the Bastar Superintendent of Police and shifted a couple of senior officials. It has also ordered a judicial inquiry and the report may not come before the state goes to polls sometime in November.  

A year ago, Raman Singh and the BJP appeared invincible in the state as the faction-ridden Congress was unable to put up a united fight. Slain PCC chief Nandakumar Patel‘s audacious efforts, however, was slowly tilting the balance and political analysts were even predicting a close finish in the elections, scheduled to be held later this year.
With the elections coming near, both the parties had embarked on separate bus yatras with a rare sense urgency to outwit the other.

BJP’s yatra specialist LK Advani flagged off the 6,000-km “Vikas Yatra” at Dantewada in southern Chhattisgarh on May 6. The Congress had launched its “Parivartan Yatra” in mid-April from Ambikapur on the northern tip of the state. “While the BJP yatra has only Raman Singh as its lone passenger, the faction-ridden Congress bus has many,” said BJP leader Rameshwar Sharma. Sharma has a point here as former Chief Minister Ajit Jogi’s supporters created a ruckus in Ambikapur at the launching ceremony under full media glare.

But the chief minister was not traveling alone, hoping for a hat-trick he carried a bagful of goodies with him. The Chawal Wale Baba, as he is fondly called for his Rs 3-a-kg rice scheme, had carried Rs 1,900-crore worth of cheques to be distributed to farmers, laptops for college students, cycles for school-going girls, sewing machines for mothers and farm equipment.

They misled Advani by saying that the state has 24-hour power supply.  The truth is that there is no 24-hour power supply in the Bastar region  and farmers also do not  get uninterrupted power supply, Congress leader J P Dhanopia pointed out.

“Under Raman Singh’s leadership, the  BJP won 11 out of 12 seats in Maoist-hit Bastar, “said BJP Minority Morcha Leader Sardar Saheb batting for his beleaguered chief minister. He argued that the process of development in the tribal area is cumbersome and will take years for the tribals  to enjoy the fruits of changes brought in by Raman Singh. Even though the National Investigation Agency (NIA) is entrusted with the investigation, the ruling BJP here will have to answer the pertinent question on why there was full security coverage for its Vikas Yatra, while the Parivartan yatra ended in a disaster.

In the words of CPI (M) leader Chittaranjan Bakshi “the Jeeram Ghati incident is the biggest security failure and we hold the government responsible for the massacre.” Even if the route was changed in the last minute by Congress local leaders, how come 500 Maoists gathered there within short notice?

The people of Chhattisgarh would like to hear an explanation.

Related Stories:

Maoist challenge: Patience, silent work is need of the day

The ghastly end of the Bastar Tiger

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