Saturday, January 24, 2009

Reclusive commandant who took on Naxals

M.F. Ahmed, Hindustan Times
Daltonganj, January 24, 2009
First Published: 00:53 IST(24/1/2009)
Last Updated: 05:16 IST(25/1/2009)

The explosion lifted the landmine-proof vehicle several inches up in the air. Though it withstood the blast, leaving its occupants unharmed, it refused to move once the wheels hit the ground again.

Inside was B.K. Sharma, commandant of the 13th Battalion of the Central Reserve Police Force, along with four colleagues, including a state police DIG, Ramlakhan Prasad. The entire platoon was following in three more vehicles.

The platoon was stranded late in the evening of August 22, 2006, on the road from Betla to Garu, 190 km from the state capital, Ranchi.

Immediately afterwards, the firing began from behind the trees, then stopped.

Remaining inside the vehicle would have been suicidal. From his nine-year long experience in Jharkhand combating Naxalites, Sharma knew the firing would soon resume. If the Naxalites had quietened down, it was only because they were not sure how equipped the CRPF jawans were to hit back.

“What they didn’t know –– and thank God they didn’t –– is that we were short of ammunition,” said Sharma. “They would have massacred us otherwise.”

Speaking softly into his walkie-talkie, Sharma instructed his men to take shelter in the forests and use their firepower sparingly. Sure enough, the Naxalites soon began firing again.

“There must have been over 100 of them,” recalled Sharma. “We were about 30, but we had to give the impression that we had many more men and guns than they. While the Naxalites fired indiscriminately, our boys fired intelligently.”

Two jawans were indeed killed in the firing, and two more injured, but the casualties could have been much higher. “The Naxals exhausted their ammunition and ran away,” said Sharma. “We survived to tell the tale.”

This is only the most dramatic of the numerous close shaves Sharma has had during his nine-year stint in Jharkhand.

“What I feel really bad about is the condition of the villagers,” he said. “If they cooperate with us, the Naxalites terrorise them, and if they cooperate with the Naxalites, we have no choice but to be tough with them too.”

Sharma refuses to divulge any personal details. It is not as if he is publicity shy. It’s just that he fears any information he gives away could be used by his principal adversaries –– the Naxalites –– to target him. He is determined not to say a word about his children for fear they may be kidnapped or worse.

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