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Frontline becomes cannon fodder

Ahmedabad, Sept. 25: Gujarat’s frontline had little more than rickety .303s and raw courage when the call of duty came.

Nursing a bullet-riddled leg on a foul-smelling bed in the E-4 enclosure of the Ahmedabad Civil Hospital, State Reserve Police’s Nilesh Jainimavat says he just heard the orders. He didn’t see anything. It was too dark.

Nilesh and 13 policemen from the SRP III group were ordered into action outside the Swaminarayan temple as soon as the alert reached the police headquarters. They were the first of the security forces to reach the temple complex.

Nilesh and his fellow men were carrying only .303s – a warhorse gun good for accurate and long-range shooting but of little help against urban guerrillas running amok with AK-47 assault rifles.

Nilesh and his mates ran into not only a hail of bullets but also a handful of deadly Australian hand grenades. The SRP III Group was falling one by one.

One of them was already dead. The victim, Allarakha, was just two months old in the service.

“We had gone to cordon off the terrorists and were the first to reach there,” says Jaisinhbhai Jeevasad. “I was hit and soon fainted near the entrance of the gate, but I saw that most from my group were down by then.”

At least 10 grenades were lobbed at the SRP squad. Flying grenade shrapnel struck Jaisinhbhai in the leg, chest and shoulder.

Compounding the problems of the jawans was the absence of night vision devices. The foliage around the Swaminarayan temple made matters worse.

So sure were the militants of their superior firepower that, Nilesh says: “One of them came very close to me before lobbing a grenade. Aisa lag raha tha ke mazak uda rahe hain (It was as if they were making fun of us).”

The policemen say that while two of them were dead, three are critically injured. It was only around 1.30 am that BSF reinforcements evicted them from the firing zone and rushed them to hospitals in Ahmedabad and Gandhinagar.

“We could not match their firepower,” Jaisinhbhai says. “There was also no way out.”

Other jawans of the SRP say that they are “at the disposal” of the police headquarters and are used as the first “back-up” unit in any “situation”.

“But the sad part is that no one bothers about us because it is not an elite unit,” says a jawan. “The least they can do is arm us with better weapons. Is this any way to die'”

A senior police official, however, says it is the duty of whoever is closest at hand to go in for damage control.

The demand for sophisticated weapons was met with a resigned shrug. “It is not in our hands to push for more modern weapons,” the officer says. “After all, we don’t have the powers to buy new weapons, we can only requisition them. It is very difficult to overhaul the whole thing. Moreover, there are many forces that are equipped only with .303s.”

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