The 22 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) men who were killed-in-action during Saturday’s encounter with Maoists in Bastar, Chhattisgarh, were the latest in the long and endless list of security personnel and civilians killed in the attacks carried out by the left-wing terrorists. The attack was a grim reminder of the menace of Maoist terrorism afflicting the nation.
The security forces had launched an operation along the Sukma-Bijapur border, where an intense face-off resulted in the martyrdom of 22 jawans. It is being reported that one soldier is still missing. Besides, 31 soldiers were injured in the encounter that ensued between the armed personnel and the Maoists.
A police officer privy to the developments said it was a “U-shaped attack” in which the security personnel were stuck at a lower level, and the Maoists perched atop the two hilltops, fired indiscriminately at the security forces. The police officer also claimed that the Maoist operation was led by Hidma, the same Maoist who was responsible for the catastrophic attack on CRPF personnel in Sukuma in 2017. There was intelligence input that Hidma was present in the area for the last 17 days, the officer said.
The incident has once again brought to fore the challenges of the left-wing extremism facing the country. For decades now, several pockets in the country have become stronghold of the Communist terrorists, who use the local areas to their advantage to perpetuate their reign of terror. Often, the target is the police, security personnel and political leadership. But the Maoists have demonstrated that they won’t shy away from attacking and harming the civil population either.
The Maoists and Naxals have also demonstrated that they possess modern weapons, are adequately trained, and are ruthless in their guerrilla warfare against the security forces. They have used the factor of a surprise to great advantage, stunning their opponents with a surprise attack and inflicting maximum damage.
Against the backdrop of the pernicious attack that took place in Chhattisgarh last week, let’s take a look at some of the major Naxal ambushes in the last few years:-
Jnaneswari Express train derailment
Perhaps, the deadliest of the Maoist attacks in the last couple of decades has to be the Jnaneswari Express train derailment. For the passengers of the train, the disaster struck when they were in deep sleep. The train bound to Mumbai got derailed between Khemashuli and Sardhia stations of South Eastern Railway after midnight May 28, 2010, and toppled on the adjacent tracks.
A goods train coming from the opposite direction within a few minutes ploughed through the bogies, taking the toll of the injured and dead even higher. About 148 passengers lost their lives in the incident and more than 200 passengers were injured.
In the investigation that ensued following the incident, it came to light that the accident was a result of sabotage by activists of frontal organisations of the Maoists, who had damaged the railway tracks that eventually caused the derailment.
West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee was then the Railway Minister of the country. Following the incident, she was reluctant to admit the Maoist connection in the attack even though the incident took place in West Bengal’s Naxal-hit Midnapore district. Banerjee had then called for a CBI inquiry into the incident, alleging that the accident was a conspiracy by the ruling CPM in West Bengal.
The premier investigation agency named Maoist leader Bapi Mahato as the prime accused in the case. Days later he was arrested by the police. In his interrogation, Bapi Mahato confessed that he was a member of Mamata’s Trinamool Congress before he joined the People’s Committee against Police Atrocities (PCAPA), a frontal organisation of the Maoists responsible for the derailment of Jnaneswari Express.
However, Banerjee remained adamant that the conspiracy was hatched by the CPM. Only months later, she grudgingly admitted the investigation findings that pointed towards the involvement of Maoists in planning and executing the attack that saw more than 140 deaths.
Dantewada Naxal attack in Chhattisgarh claims lives of 76 security personnel
In April 2010, a month before the Jnaneswari Express derailment, Chhattisgarh was jolted with a major Naxal attack when 75 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and a state police personnel were killed in an ambush in the thick Mukrana forests of the Dantewada district.
The CRPF team was attacked while they were taking a break after a long tiring night of travelling. The team had completed its three-day anti-Maoist operation and was on its way. They took a break at around 6 am after travelling all night, when they were ambushed by up to 1,000 Maoists positioned on the neighbouring hilltop. The Naxals, fully aware of the CRPF troop movement, launched an attack with deadly precision, giving the soldiers no chance to mount a response. They blew up an anti-landmine vehicle and then began firing indiscriminately.
The shell-shocked and worn out jawans were not in a position to follow and abide by the standard operating procedures like checking the road for landmines. They were massacred within minutes of the attack. The Naxals subsequently looted all the weapons that the CRPF party had.
26 CRPF personnel martyred in Naxal ambush in Narayanpur, Chhattisgarh
2010 was amongst the worst year with regard to the Maoist insurgency in the country. A month after the Jnaneswari Express derailment that killed over 140 people and two months after the horrendous Dantewada attack in which 76 security personnel lost their lives, Naxals executed another deadly ambush, killing 26 CRPF personnel.
In June 2010, a heavily armed group of Naxals, sitting atop a hill, targeted a 63-member security contingent that was returning on foot from road opening duty. The Maoists opened indiscriminate fire, which has been their modus operandi, to sow confusion and panic among the soldiers and thereby inflict maximum damage.
The attack place at Daurai Road area of Chhattisgarh’s Narayanpur, about 300 km from Raipur. 26 CRPF personnel lost their lives in the attack.
The Naxal attack on Congress cadres in Darbha Valley, Chhattisgarh
Another horrifying attack that shook the nation’s conscience and forced the ruling class to reconsider its strategy in dealing with the Naxalites was the Darbha Valley attack in Chhattisgarh in May 2013, in which the entire state Congress leadership was wiped out. At least 27 people were killed in the attack when the Naxalites had ambushed several Chhattisgarh Congress leaders, including state secretary Nand Kumar Patel, his son Dinesh, former Union minister VC Shukla and former state minister Mahendra Karma.
The Congress leaders were on their way from Sukma to Jagdalpur after a rally, which was a part of the party’s ‘Parivartan Yatra’, when the deadly attack took place. They had passed through Naxal-affected regions during the march.
Former Chhattisgarh chief minister Ajit Jogi, who was a Congress leader at the time, was also scheduled to travel with the convoy, but had changed his plan at the last minute and decided to travel by helicopter.
The attack was a signature Maoist attack as carried out in the past. The left extremists used the thick cover of the forested area of the Bastar-Sukma border to their advantage and laid an ambush. After ambushing the convoy, the Maoists detonated an IED to create a crater and cut off the convoy’s escape route. Once the vehicles slowed down, the Naxals opened indiscriminate fire on the Congress leaders.
25 CRPF personnel killed in the April 2017 Naxal attack in Sukuma, Chhattisgarh
The Sukuma district of Chhattisgarh is considered one of the most volatile regions plagued by the scourge of left-wing terrorism. The region has witnessed more than half a dozen Maoist attacks in the last decade.
The deadliest of the attacks took place in April 2017, when Maoists attacked a team of around 100 men, belonging to the 74th battalion of the CRPF, based at the Burkapal camp on the Dornapal-Jagargunda road in south Sukma, was out to provide protection for road construction work in the area.
25 CRPF personnel were martyred in the attack and seven others were grievously injured. In retaliation, CRPF opened fire and shot dead 10-12 Maoists.
According to the official information that was released after the encounter ended, the attack was carried out by Hidma, head of PLGA Battalion 1. The battalion is one of the fiercest armed cadres of the Maoists and had carried sophisticated weapons to attack the CRPF team. Besides, the group also included many women cadre.