By Harinder Baweja
April 22, 2012
Helicopters were kept on standby for casualty evacuation; targets were chosen with care after studying satellite images and the troops were warned — the encounters would be fierce and the naxals could be in the hundreds, even thousands. After weeks of planning, security forces armed with automatic rifles, satellite phones and Swedish Carl Gustav rocket launchers made their very first foray into the dense Abujhmad jungle, straddling the two states of Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh. Abujhmad, or ‘unknown hill’ — 6,000 sq km of thick forest — has not been surveyed since the British.
As part of the operation, security forces had zoomed in on a map of the area with the help of Google Earth, on to a couple of structures they identified as a ‘naxal camp’. A plan was prepared to go in and take out the naxalites. The mission had a second aim — the stronghold had to be psychologically breached, since it is as much home to the naxals as it is a zone ‘liberated’ of all government control.
Primed for a fierce fight, weapons ready, the troops marched 70 km to the ‘naxal camp’.
What they found instead was a village with 15 to 20 thatched huts. The cluster of buildings the forces saw for the first time on Google Earth were homes of Muria tribals, now startled at the sight of armed men in uniform.
“Nobody knew there was a village called Bodiguda,” S Elango, CRPF DIG (operations) exclaimed, of a village that had been discovered for the first time since Independence.
The nameless, faceless tribals — who have never seen or heard of electricity or water taps, schools or dispensaries, men or machines — have grown up believing the naxals are the government. The rebels bring them rice and medicines and take care of their daily needs. They’ve never seen transport or ration through PDS; what they are familiar with is the Red army.
The closest to civilisation is a larger village — or town — called Behramgarh, 29 km away, which also has a police station but the tribals of Bodiguda seldom venture there.
The grand strategy — to control the naxal spread — is to clear, hold and develop. Last month’s security operation that took weeks of planning ended with a one-hour exchange of fire in the jungles. Two injured jawans, no naxal arrests, and yes, the discovery of Bodiguda.
Early this week, home minister P Chidambaram, speaking of the Red threat to chief ministers, said they did not have the upper hand because “there are not enough men, weapons and vehicles, not enough roads, and not enough… civil administration.” He could well have added another line — and some states don’t know of villages where our own live.