Saturday, June 27, 2009

Maoists mock and melt

Fall of Ramgarh without a whimper

Residents of Ramgarh offer water to security forces. Those welcoming the forces were mostly non-tribals, reflecting the divide with the tribals whom the Maoists have been trying to mobilise. Picture by Sanjoy Chattopadhyaya
Ramgarh, June 27: A fresh bootmark on the black door someone tried to kick open. They were here.

When 7 Delta, the Central Reserve Police Force section that reached Ramgarh first, approached him, a trembling schoolteacher told the troopers that they — meaning the Maoists — tried to smash his door minutes ago. And they shouted: “We are not the police, we are your protectors.”

A little further on, there is a charred mud house with a tin roof that was the office of the CPI. It is still smouldering. They were here too. Not more than half-an-hour back, says the shopkeeper and CPI worker.

“They fired in the air and burnt our office. We were watching television to follow the news about what was going to happen to us when they attacked. We fled. They smashed the television and set the office on fire,” the party worker in Ramgarh said. His party shared the office with the Ramgarh Loading and Unloading Workers’ Union.

On the road to Ramgarh from Kadashole, the village that the security forces took yesterday, a freshly painted poster in Bengali is pressed back with four stones on the black asphalt. It is written by a fluent hand: “The people are urged not to use this path, it is laid with mines. Signed, the Communist Party of India (Maoist).”

This is just after the first forest as the security forces resumed their march today and entered Ramgarh in Bengal’s offensive against rebels in Lalgarh. Ramgarh is to the north of Lalgarh.

Today’s march took the state forces to Ramgarh for the first time in seven months. A police camp in Ramgarh was burnt by the rebels.

The “fall of Ramgarh” on the 10th day of the operation is seen by the state forces as a strategic gain. Bengal police’s Siddhi Nath Gupta said the forces would set up camp in the town and the next operations would be from here.

A few hundred people lined the main road of Ramgarh leading to its bazaar that the forces took. Some offered the forces drinking water. Most were silent. After about an hour, they were more welcoming.

The tribal hamlets of Ramgarh were emptied. There is a clear tribal-non-tribal divide in the town. The people on the streets welcoming the forces were mostly non-tribals.

From Ramgarh, it is about 14km to Lalgarh, whose police station was reached by the forces last weekend.

It took the forces a little more than eight hours to travel the distance from Kadashole to Ramgarh, a town of about 1,200 houses. On the way back from Ramgarh by car, the distance was covered in less than 10 minutes.

Using ruse and retreat with pitiful firepower as tactics, all that the Maoist rebels have succeeded in doing is slowing down the state’s offensive. The security forces have discovered many of their land mines and improvised explosive devices. There have been so many duds that it has got wearisome.

Red and black wires apparently connecting explosives to detonators have been found. They were scarcely concealed even from the unskilled eye. This morning, a bomb disposal squad found another length of wire.

They decided to track it to its point of origin. After going some half a kilometre, they found no detonator. The wires were nailed to the ground. Dead end.

The Maoist rebels have also reduced the operation into a catch-me-if-you-can. Since yesterday, they have left no doubt about their presence. They have also left little doubt that they are always a little ahead — or just in time — for the retreat.

Defiance from the Maoists is limited to firing beyond range. On the right flank of the road that leads to Ramgarh today, about 10 rebels fired and fled. A CRPF section leader laughed it off. “Itna door se yeh .202 or .303 se kya hoga? (what can these small-calibre guns do from so far?)”

But every time the security forces were entering wooded areas, the CRPF was firing off its newly acquired high explosive (HE), the 51mm mortars.

“I think the HE has done the job,” said the deputy inspector-general (range), B.R. Kamath. “They did not expect this.”

Tomorrow, the security forces are likely to resume their march and this time head south in the direction of Lalgarh. Their first objective would be Kantapahari, a known base of the Maoists.

It is probably time to ponder that the offensive in Lalgarh is in its 10th day today. The 1971 war that won independence for Bangladesh lasted 13 days.

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