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Strikeback in Maoist fight

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By PRONAB MONDAL
  • Published 24.02.10
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Lalmohan Tudu

Kantapahari, Feb. 23: The president of the People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities (PCPA), the Maoist-backed tribal resistance group based in Lalgarh, was killed last night in what police claimed was “retaliatory fire” after guerrillas attacked a CRPF camp here.

However, the PCPA said Lalmohan Tudu, 48, was picked up from his home when he had dropped in for a brief visit and shot dead in a paddy field behind the house.

Such persistent claims during the day and the smouldering mood among security forces after the police massacre in Shilda suggest the stirrings of an undeclared strategy shift in the fight against Maoists.

No one would publicly call it an “eye-for-an-eye” crackdown but several officers recalled such a policy had crushed the Naxalite movement of the late 1960s. ( )

If Tudu was killed as a result of a policy shift, it has come at a time the Maoists have betrayed signs that they could be feeling the heat of low-intensity security operations now under way in states such as Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. A Maoist leader had yesterday made a conditional truce offer to the Centre.

In response, Union home minister P. Chidambaram today sought to tighten the screws, telling the rebels how to draft such messages (“no ifs, no buts”) and sending them a fax number of an additional secretary’s office. ( )

On record, the security forces insisted that PCPA chief Tudu died in a shootout with the CRPF in Kantapahari, 6km from Lalgarh town.

According to the district police, the security forces received information of a Maoist “build-up” in the forest outside the camp around 8.30 last night.

The CRPF jawans took up positions outside and within a brief while, the police said, firing started from the forest. The jawans retaliated and the exchange carried on for half an hour.

When the guns fell silent, the jawans found a body with several bullet marks. Next to him were two firearms: a 9mm pistol and a country-made revolver. The body was later handed over to the police.

“This morning, the body was identified as that of Lalmohan Tudu and he was obviously among those firing at the police camp,” said West Midnapore SP Manoj Verma.

However, Asit Mahato, a spokesperson for the PCPA, said: “Lalmohan Tudu was picked up from his house by the police and shot dead.”

Tudu, who kept a low profile, had become the president of the committee in November 2008 when it was floated. He was rarely at the forefront of the movement, but had accompanied Chhatradhar Mahato, who is now in jail, to a meeting with the Election Commission before the Lok Sabha polls.

At Tudu’s village Narcha, 3km from the CRPF camp, Sanatan Murmu, a 60-year-old neighbour, said: “I saw Tudu here at 7.30 last evening and he said he had come to collect a few things since his daughter was appearing for the Madhyamik exams from today. After that, I went to my house and shut the door.”

Murmu said that around 8.30 he heard a lot of footsteps and peered out. “I saw a lot of policemen and quickly shut the door,” Murmu said. “About 15 minutes later, I heard four or five gunshots from the paddy field behind the house and now I hear that the police are saying that he had died in a gun battle. I find it very difficult to believe.”

Another neighbour also more or less echoed Murmu.