Even though Maoists in Bengal have indicated that they are ready for talks, preparations are on a war footing for Operation Green Hunt in Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh. CoBRA commandos are to be sent to Gadchiroli, a few companies of the CRPF are already in place. Add to this the other paramilitary forces stationed in the district. And, finally, the local police.
The numbers stacked up against the rebels are huge. Now, the question that's being asked is where are the Naxals? The government's efforts to flush out Naxals from the thick jungles of Gadchiroli are going to be anything but a cakewalk especially as Naxals don't go around with identity cards around their necks.
In a tactical move, often the Naxals have also discarded their traditional olive green dungarees and are mingling with the locals in traditional outfits making their identification all the more difficult. It seems the only way the cops will come face to face with the Naxals is in an encounter. Here too the rebels are known to make surprise attacks – either guerrilla tactics or the newly adopted mobile warfare. Records show that the police have always been lured into a trap and massacred.
The police have very few records of Naxals. So far, intelligence have data of only about 300-odd names. The number of photographs, largely of those arrested and some from other sources, available is barely 30% of the data. In such a scenario, the security forces have little means to identify a Naxal.
"The Naxals have several aliases. They identify themselves differently in different locations," said a Gadchiroli cop.
Another experienced cop, who has been working in Gadchiroli for two weeks now, has this to say: "Police have some time-tested ways to differentiate an innocent villager from a Naxal who would try to slip away or try to hide. A big group would however have no choice but to get into a gun-fight."
As the hype around the operation builds up, the cops also expect the front organizations and supporters to get active. "Naxals have strong and active political, media and legal cells at urban centres to highlight their cause," said a social observer. "They will be quick to capitalize on any loss of innocent blood."
Some cops feel that the central government should take a leaf out of the Sri Lankan government's book. In its fight against the LTTE, the media was kept at a safe distance to avoid any sympathy wave that might be generated.
Gadchiroli has witnessed more than 50 brutal deaths of cops this year. The confidence and morale is at an all-time low. To make matters worse, their relationship with villagers, who are being continuously threatened by Naxals, is not good too. A senior official from the district administration claimed that police need to improve their relationship with the media.
"Until villagers help the cops with information, success against Naxals is difficult in Gadchiroli," said a local resident pointing at how Operation Parakram-I and II (between February and October) failed in the district despite it being planned at a high level.
Former state Anti-Naxal Operation chief Pankaj Gupta said the government should now 'counter-attack' by highlighting its schemes that have been specially designed for the tribal district. "Wresting the initiative through the media is one of the better strategies to push the Maoist back," said Gupta.
Stationing at least one helicopter in Gadchiroli will also go a long way in boosting the morale of the cops. There's discontent among the police force as in absence of a chopper reinforcements can't be rushed in during an ambush. On October 8 at Laheri, the cornered cops waited for more than three hours for help that never came.
A senior district official pointed out that central government had recently sanctioned six helicopters for Naxal-affected areas. But not a single one has landed. "A rescue helicopter is urgently needed," said the official.
The Naxals, meanwhile, have upped their campaign in the villages trying to garner support. "Despite efforts, government initiatives are being hijacked by Naxals. For the Operation Green Hunt to succeed, it's important that propaganda too goes hand-in-hand with it," said the official.
WHEN NAXALS GOT THE BETTER OF COPS
01/02 Markegaon: 15 cops die after being ambushed in a forest close to Chhattisgarh border. The Naxals were apparently more than 300 and the cops were completely taken by surprise
6/04 Mungner: 3 cops killed as they manage to put up a fight
21/05 Hattigota: 16 cops, including 5 women, killed. On being informed that a number of Naxals including women have assembled here, cops rush to Hattigota but are again outnumbered
8/10 Laheri: Five days before the elections, cops lose 17 men, the highest so far. Naxals also take away ammunition and wireless sets
WHEN COPS GOT THE BETTER OF NAXALS
Apart from Mungner, where the Chattisgarh cops claimed that 7 Naxals were shot, there are no records with Maharashtra police to show that the rebels have lost personnel.
TNN 7 November 2009