Lathis against Ak-47s: Chhattisgarh cops are sitting ducks

By Sujeet Kumar, IANS,

Raipur : It could well be dubbed the capital of India’s Maoist country. But thousands of policemen in Chhattisgarh who take on the AK-47-carrying rebels are armed with the humble ‘lathis’ or bamboo staves.

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It is an unenviable battle, so loaded against the policemen that many are refusing to fight the insurgents, preferring instead to get suspended from service, police sources say. But the state’s police chief denies that his men are demoralised.

“You can say policemen are demoralised only when we are not going for operations in areas of Maoist control. The fact is that we have taken the battle to their (Maoist) zone and are killing them,” Director General of Police Vishwaranjan told IANS.

Another officer claimed that the Maoists were on the run in Chhattisgarh.

Other police officers narrate a different picture.

Some of them told IANS that a section of policemen posted in the thickly forested Maoist strongholds have made peace with the guerrillas in order to stay alive.

The result? Maoists rule supreme in vast areas of Chhattisgarh.

A senior police officer with over 15 years of posting in Maoist areas told IANS: “The government has the will to crush the insurgents, but it lacks vision and a strategy. This has left hundreds of policemen in forested interiors at the mercy of Maoists.

“Believe it or not, some of these policemen daily salute local Naxalite (Maoist) leaders to ensure they are alive. But in Raipur, the police brass claim that Maoists’ days are numbered!”

On July 12, Maoists ambushed a police convoy and killed 29 policemen in Rajnandgaon district. The massacre took to some 225 the number of security personnel and civilians killed in the state this year.

If the killings are any indication, the Maoists appear to be going strong.

The worst ever slaughter of policemen in India at the hands of Maoists took place in Chhattisgarh in March 2007 when 55 police personnel died in Bijapur district.

Sources in the police headquarters say some 38,000 police and paramilitary personnel are deployed against the Maoists in the tribal-majority state. The rebels number 50,000, including 15,000 female ones.

The numbers don’t tell the whole story. Among the policemen are about 10,000 constables deployed in the worst-hit pockets, but all that they have are ‘lathis’ to counter AK-47s.

The Maoists are also increasingly flashing mortars and rocket launchers.

“If the government really wants to take the battle to the Maoist heartland, they must have a clear strategy, intelligence gathering network and proper coordination,” said an anguished police official.

“The biggest problem is that policemen in the war zone feel that they have been given ‘punishment posting’ and they can survive only by developing friendship with Maoists,” an official told IANS.

Many policemen also have self-loading rifles and pistols, but these are no match to the lethal AK-47s.

While the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) has AK-47s, the police say the CRPF does not venture beyond a few kilometres of their camps.

In July, 29 policemen were suspended for refusing to attend the Counter Terrorism and Jungle Warfare College (CTJWC) training before being sent to battle the Maoists.

Maoists are active in all 18 districts and can strike anywhere and at any time at will.

Said B.K. Ponwar, formerly head of the army’s Counter Insurgency and Jungle Warfare School in Mizoram: “Policemen will remain at the receiving end because they are not ready to follow the jungle warfare basics.”

(Sujeet Kumar can be contacted at [email protected])