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Naxal threat shadows poll-bound Chhattisgarh

Krishnakumar P in Raipur | November 12, 2008 03:21 IST
Last Updated: November 12, 2008 08:32 IST

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At least 12 paramilitary men were killed on the day of filing nominations, a political leader and his aide lynched while campaigning, an inspector-general of police critically injured in an ambush. And there are still two more days to go before polls.

Pushing the all important question of who will win the two-phase assembly election in Chhattisgarh to the background is the question: 'Where will the next attack be, and who will be the target?'

"In the last three days of the run-up to the 2003 election, there were 147 encounters," said a Raipur-based security expert.

'Encounter' here does not mean cold-blooded killings. It means police parties running into Maoist rebels, when the resultant gunfire causes heavy casualties on both sides.

Though the IG's ambush is put down to the laxity and failure of the police to follow standard operating procedure, which has been widely criticised, nobody is taking any chance, not even the man who shoved guns into the hands of tribal people and sent them to kill Maoists, Mahendra Karma, a Congress leader.

The very man, who piloted the dreaded armed militia, now said there was not need to risk his life and go and campaign in the interiors of his constituency in Bastar.

On IG, SArguja Range, BS Marawi's ambush on Monday, one highly placed state intelligence source said: "A search party had gone into the region in the morning. They ran into Maoists and backed off. When they were leaving the forest, a party, led by the IG, was reaching the place to monitor the situation. The first party told the IG's group that they had killed many rebels and are returning, which was a lie. The IG's team then went into the forest to recover the bodies. The Maoists saw the party go in. On not finding any bodies, the team returned. Unfortunately, they took the same route by which they went in and were ambushed," he said.

P C Hota, a journalist, added: "Not only did they take the same route, which is a failure to follow procedure, the IG and the superintendent of police were sitting in the same vehicle, which is also a breach of procedure."

The next day, the police got even. On Tuesday, the Narayanpur district police shot dead at least three Maoists in a gun battle near Khod village, about 13 km from the district headquarters.

"About seven Maoists must have been killed, but only the bodies of three of them have been recovered, sources said.

With things at a boil, both the main political parties - the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress -- have sought to politicise this highly sensitive security issue.

While the Congress claims the BJP government has let the problem get out of hand, the ruling party claims that it is their tough action that has led to a stiff fight with the banned outfit.

"The Maoists were always in the region, but the bifurcation of the state meant that Chhattisgarh was left with highly sensitive areas. So the figures will only give an exaggerated version of the story," a ruling party source said.

Hota added that the intensity of Maoist activity in the Bastar region increased only after 2005.

"The Salwa Judum movement was started and the violence all of a sudden went shot up. In fact the government has done some credible job of countering them," he said, adding, "Because the state and the security forces started chasing them, their intensified their efforts and it became a fight to dominate terrain."

But the Congress thinks otherwise.

Union Minister of State for Home Sriprakash Jaiswal was in Raipur on Tuesday. When he met journalists, Jaiswal, whose ministry is at the forefront of the fight against Maoists, unabashedly proclaimed his visit was all political and did not have much to do with the security angle.

Blaming the state for the situation, he said Chhattisgarh witnessed a 2.5-fold rise in Maoist violence during the five-years of BJP rule.

"Does this BJP government have the right to remain in power with the Maoists having developed this state as their base during its regime?" he asked.

Criticising the BJP for claiming that it's difficult to tackle Maoist violence, he said: "If the Congress comes to power in the state, we will show how to handle the Maoist violence. We will go the Andhra Pradesh way which is now 80 percent free of Maoist problem."

He alleged that the government had consistently shown lack if intent and did not use the services of 17 battalions of CRPF personnel (which is highest allocation of the paramilitary force to any state.The BJP, meanwhile, claimed that had the Centre sent the forces on time, the party would not have lost its two leaders.)

Jaiswal had a reply to even that criticism. "The Raman Singh-led government was unable to raise six India Reserve Battalion during its full term despite the Centre giving the necessary permission and assurance to provide funds. This shows how serious the government is in dealing with the problem," he said.

Even as the mudslinging continues with two days to go before D-Day, observers and participants alike are dreaded: What next?

"The Maoists even attempted to target Indian Air Force helicopters during the last elections. This being the only time when leaders and bureaucrats alike will be out in the open and give them some chance of targeting them, despite the heavy security presence the Maoists will not spare even small chances and windows they might get to hit their targets," the intelligence officer said.

Hota concluded: "I believe there could be more incidents. Maoists have already asked public vehicles not to ply till the election day and said the roads may be mined. And the government has said helicopters will be used to ferry poling parties. I hope they do not succeed this year where they failed last year."

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