Kolkata : The Centre along with the Naxal-affected states has launched its biggest offensive against the rebels but Feb 15th attack at a police camp in West Bengal in which 24 security personnel were killed showed that the strategy to counter the rebels is not foolproof.
Following the deadly attack West Bengal Police are caught in political pressure with the Centre saying the state's force is ill-equipped, but state government has been claiming that Naxal leader Kishanji will be arrested soon. Preliminary investigations into the Naxal attack at a camp of Eastern Frontier Rifle (EFR) jawans in Silda in West Midnapore point to a security lapse and exposes how unprepared the forces are in dealing with the menace.
The daring attack has also prompted the Centre to rethink its strategy to counter the Naxals. Seven more jawans were injured and are fighting for life in the attack. Even West Bengal's top police officials accept that there was very little resistance that was put up as the jawans were no match for the biggest, boldest ever operation by the Naxals in West Bengal. "The jawans could not retaliate because it is a congested area and there were chances of civilians getting hurt," said West Bengal DGP Bhupinder Singh.
Forty jawans were manning the camp when over 100 Naxals launched the assault. The attackers came on motorcycles and cars. They also looted 50 rifles including AK-47s. For the first time the Naxals used four-wheelers in such an attack. They also tried to cover their tracks and burnt the vehicles before fleeing, on a state highway 20km away from the site of the operation. The scale of the attack has forced New Delhi to rethink strategies, just a week after Union Home Minister P Chidambaram met with chief ministers of West Bengal and Orissa, deputy chief minister of Jharkhand and top officials from Bihar in Kolkata to draw up a joint strategy to counter the Naxals. "We will review the strategy in West Bengal. We need to pay more emphasis in training, relief and rescue," said Special Secretary, Internal Security, U. K. Bansal.
Clearly, there was an intelligence failure. The attacked camp is located right in middle of a market and evidently the Naxals were planning the attack for a long time. Ironically local villagers showed little sympathy for the dead jawans and without their help, Operation Greenhunt against the Naxals cannot expect much success. "During the attack no policemen were around and now they are coming and beating us up," said a villager. It took the lives of 24 security personnel for West Bengal Police to decide that the Silda camp should be rapped up and moved to another location. But with no clear retaliatory strategy spelt out even after Monday's deadly attack, it seems peace in West Bengal's Jangal Mahal area would remain a far cry.
Union Home Secretary GK Pillai claimed that West Bengal Police was ill-prepared to tackle the Naxal menace. "I think the Maoists have basically selected what I would call as soft target. West Bengal police are possibly the least prepared for tackling such menace as the Maoists. I don't think the Maoists would really dare to do this either in Gadchirolli or in Chhattisgarh where the police forces are far more shall I say battle hardened," Pillai told reporters. When asked if West Bengal Police were not equipped to take on the Maoists, Pillai replied in the affirmative. "Yes! I think they do need far more training. I think the preliminary indications are that there have been quite some considerable security lapses and negligence on the part of those who are manning the camp. That is why they have lost this much of manpower as also the weapons," said Pillai.
However, West Bengal Home Secretary Ardhendu Sen said there had been no security lapses and negligence on the part of West Bengal forces. "I am sure same type of attacks took place at some other camp or thana. One has to go into specific situation instead of making general statements. It's not that West Bengal is not prepared. It's not an easy task to catch him (Naxal leader Kishanji) but you have seen over the last month or so repeated attempts have been made and in each attempt we have got closer to him including the one where we got his laptop, hearing aid etc. We are countering the attacks. These are being masterminded by a very small group. It's just a question of time. We will definitely catch him. Kishanji will be caught very soon," claimed Sen.