The lengthening shadow

The lengthening shadow

The Delhi-Bhubaneshwar Rajdhani Express that was “train-jacked” by Maoists in West Bengal on October 27, 2009.

In the last week of December, 2009, I was travelling by Bhubaneshwar-New Delhi Rajdhani Express. An hour before the train was to enter the dense forest of Jharkhand, I found to my dismay that three jawans of para-military force entered the bogie and occupied a vacant side berth. While one cop had a Self-loading Rifle (SLR), the other cop was equipped with Insas Rifle. The third jawan was carrying a Light Machine Gun (LMG), besides a walkie-talkie.

For a few seconds I wondered about their presence. But then I immediately recalled that I was travelling in the same ill-fated Rajdhani which was hijacked by armed Maoists somewhere along the Bengal-Jharkhand border in October 2009. The Maoists had kidnapped the train driver, thereby holding all 350 passengers onboard to ransom.
“We are not the only three,” said one of the cops. “One group is in the last bogie. Yet another group is sitting along with the driver in the engine cabin,” he spilled the beans as we got familiar.

The railway officials were not prepared to take any chance and, therefore, had deployed heavily-armed security men before the train left Kharagpur station in West Bengal. “To tell you honestly, the communication network of Maoists in Bengal, Jharkhand and Bihar is far superior to our intelligence feedback,” the cop continued. To buttress his point, he cited the example of a patrol party's failure to board the train on a particular day in October 2009. Within hours, the Rajdhani Express was hijacked in Singhbhum district of Jharkhand. “It's quite possible that there are some black sheep within our force who might have informed the Maoists that this particular Rajdhani had no patrol party. The rest, as they say, is history,” said the security personnel.

The train criss-crossed the dense forest of Chakulia and Ghatshila before reaching the industrial town of Jamshedpur. As scheduled, I got down there.

But exactly three months' later, the same Rajdhani was again the soft target of the rebels. This time in Bihar, where they blew up railway tracks near Gaya in the midnight of March 22, causing the derailment of eight bogies.

The Maoists' message was loud and clear – “We will strike at will. And, we will do that with clinical precision.”

Saranda jungals in Jharkhand is the largest Sal forest of Asia – spread over West Singhbhum area in east Jharkhand which also shares border with Bengal. Singhbhum is a safe haven for Maoists as security personnel have till now failed to make deep inroads into the interiors of this jungle.

“The Maoists in Saranda are well trained in guerilla warfare and are laced with
sophisticated weapons like AK-47s, LMGs, SLRs, Insas Rifle and motor launchers,” said a senior IPS officer in Bihar, who had served a stint in Singhbhum during the undivided Bihar days in the 1990s.

The whole stretch from Singhbhum in Jharkhand to Kaimur in western Bihar is perceived to be bastion for Maoists. Their writ runs unhindered. They come from nowhere, hold Kangaroo courts, award and implement punishment publicly and leave the place unchallenged.

 Though the Bihar DGP Nagmani says, “All the SPs have been asked to step up combing operations against the Maoists,” an uneasy calm prevails in both the States. After all, it was Jharkhand Chief Minister Shibu Soren and his Bihar counterpart Nitish Kumar who skipped the crucial meeting (on Maoist menace) convened by Union Home Minister P Chidambaram on one pretext or the other. While Soren's soft corner for the underground guerillas is well known, what has baffled everyone here is Nitish's (in)famous remark, “What is this Operation Green Hunt? I am not aware of any such thing.”

For Nitish, Maoists cannot be countered by force. Therefore, he has asked his police to restructure the existing rehabilitation policy so as to make it more lucrative for Maoists.
“The Bihar Government has adopted a multi-pronged approach including welfare measures like Apke Sarkar, Apke Dwar to bring Maoists into the mainstream of the society,” averred ADG (Headquarters) PK Thakur.

The ADG, however, insisted that there was no dearth of sophisticated weapons to take on the might of Maoists. “Nor do we lack security personnel. In fact, of late, we have procured more land mine resistance vehicles (LMRV) for security of our policemen,” he added.

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