ACTION AT LAST Recce, not the final assault

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By KINSUK BASU in Calcutta
  • Published 18.06.09

Calcutta, June 18: Security forces have dipped their toe in Lalgarh, not launched the final assault.

“There was some action today and our forces advanced towards Lalgarh but it was more like testing the waters,” said one of the state police officers overseeing the unfolding events in Lalgarh.

A CRPF officer echoed him, saying today’s operation was more in the nature of reconnaissance to size up the terrain and, if possible, soften up encumbrances such as human shields. “The forces there went around to have a feel of the area and the extent of possible resistance,” said the CRPF official.

“Our task now is to reach Lalgarh tomorrow at any cost,” a police officer said. “We will first fan out to the trouble-torn areas like Dharampur after reaching Lalgarh police station. We will also get additional reinforcements from the Pirakata camp.”

The nature of the operation is expected to change once the security forces inch closer to Lalgarh. The real strongholds of the Maoists in Lalgarh are interior villages like Kantapahari and Ramgarh. The two villages are around 7km and 11km, respectively, from Lalgarh town.

Security experts said they did not expect the forces to move into these places before consolidating their hold on the “recaptured” areas.

The full-fledged attack on Maoists holed up in the interiors would start after drawing up the standard operating procedure (SOP) for the central forces.

“The SOP would clearly demarcate the areas of operation and define the mandate for the central forces. That’s the standard protocol and it is being prepared in consultation with the representatives of the central forces,” said an officer. A meeting on demarcating the areas of operation was held in Calcutta today.

“A full-fledged attack can result in bloodshed. So, we cannot launch it when the chief minister is not around,” the officer added, referring to Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s weekend meetings in Delhi.

The chief minister is expected to meet the Prime Minister tomorrow when he can tell Manmohan Singh that “action” has started.

The movement of forces also suggested that the government was not planning a full onslaught today.

Although state police personnel started out from their Midnapore camp early this morning, CRPF personnel joined them at Pirakata hours later.

The Cobra force was not pressed into service today.

“Typically, a final assault starts at the crack of dawn to ensure that the operation takes place during daylight. This prevents the enemy from taking maximum advantage of their knowledge of the terrain. But today, the operation started only at 4pm,” an officer pointed out.

“Unlike fidayeen attackers, the Maoists do not believe in losing their cadres. So today’s flaunting of forces was aimed at sending a signal to the leaders to vacate Lalgarh or face sustained action later,” an official of the state home department said.

The security establishment also wanted to instil fear among the villagers to ensure that they stayed away from the line of fire. “If the villagers are not used as shields, the loss of lives will be much less,” said the official.

A part of the forces will be staying up all night to scan paddy fields with night-vision binoculars. The CRPF men who took part in the action were replaced at night by those kept in reserve at the Pirakata camp while the district riot police have been replaced by the state armed police.

A team from Calcutta police, headed by joint commissioner Ranvir Kumar, will join the forces in Lalgarh.