Sledgehammer versus fly swatter

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By SUJAN DUTTA in Ramgarh
  • Published 27.07.09
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Sanjoy Chattopadhyaya, aphotographer with The Telegraph, tracked the CRPF’s 66 battalionas the central force advanced from Kadashole to Ramgarh through the Mohultala forest on Saturday. The central forces came across fire from the Maoists and stumbled upon mines — some of which they had been forewarned about by notices meant for civilians. Chattopadhyaya’s photographs capture some of the highlights of the 66 battalion’s march through the forest

At 9.24am, around 45 minutes after setting out from Kadashole, the battalion comes under fire, hits the grassy ground and takes position

Jawans load the 51mm mortar, a recent high-
explosive addition to the CRPF inventory, and fire

The march continues through the jungle

Ramgarh, July 27: The Maoist firepower in Lalgarh has so far been basic or imaginary.

If the number of duds found between yesterday and today were real, the central forces would have found themselves in a far more tricky situation.

This afternoon, a foray from Lalgarh towards Ramgarh was diverted after a mine went off near the village of Hariharpur-Pathardanga. It is also People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities spokesperson Chhatradhar Mahato’s village, about two-and-a-half kilometre from Lalgarh police station.

In contrast, the firepower of the CRPF is new. Its troopers carry automatic rifles — AK-47s and Insas — and also 7.62mm Light Machine Guns. The 51mm mortar is a recent addition to its inventory.

But, surprisingly, and probably for the first time, the CRPF has shown in Lalgarh that it possesses the CGRL, the Carl Gustav Rocket Launcher, of Bofors heritage.

The 51mm mortar should ideally fall in the category of light artillery. Never was a police force in India — the CRPF is after all a police force — known to be equipped with such a weapon. “I don’t think we will have to use it,” said the deputy commandant and battalion major Firoz Kujur. “They (the Maoists) don’t have defences that have to be destroyed by it,” he said.

The CRPF did not want it to be photographed. But it was unmistakable. The weapon has been displayed in a defence exhibition in Delhi.

Indeed, the CRPF’s 66 battalion in operation here looks like an infantry battalion of the army from the 1990s. The army’s infantry battalions today are far better equipped and their tactics, too, are different, probably even more time-consuming. But the CRPF is ranged against the Maoists who, by their own admission, have only a militia or, at best, a guerrilla army.

The CRPF troops in this operation are also, in military parlance, “battle-inoculated”.

“This terrain is good for us,” a CRPF platoon commander said. “This is not hilly (such areas are hazardous even for seasoned troops),” he added. This is in marked contrast to what Bengal police personnel say. They complain about the jungles.

Unlike the Bengal Armed Police that fled last Saturday after an explosion in their first foray outside Pingboni, the village that was a virtual border in Lalgarh’s north, the CRPF troops are cool about facing fire. The Maoist rebels in retreat can at best hope to launch attacks on the police after they set up camps.

Four days ago, in Boropelia, a village under the control of the people’s committee and also the Maoists, a middle-aged man, asked about the Maoist resistance, said: “Even the snake that has no poison bares its fangs. We will bare our fangs.”

Boropelia village is on the road between Lalgarh and Ramgarh. It may be targeted tomorrow in an offensive by the state forces from both ends.