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Ground Report: With 65,000 lives at stake, Bastar still on 'high alert'.

Summary: Getting tthe polling staff out of areas considered to be Maoist strongholds,

termed de-induction, remains the final challenge for the Chattisgarh


Ever heard of a 157 km long Road Opening Party (ROP)? It may sound bizarre but such is the situation in Chattisgarh's Bastar region that officials are admitting to 'over precaution' so as to ensure a safe passage for the over 65,000 strong contingent of polling staff, police forces from other states as well as paramilitary forces from outside which had been deployed for the first phase of elections, concluded yesterday. The entire procedure could last till the evening of November 14.

Polling may well be over in the sensitive Bastar region but heaving a sigh of relief is still a distant dream. Getting these men out of areas considered to be Maoist strongholds, termed de-induction, remains the final challenge for the Chattisgarh Police. Just why this task is as sensitive, if not more, was borne out by the multiple attacks launched by the Maoist insurgents upon the security forces across the Bastar region, as soon as the elections were over and the parties wanted to move out of the jungle.

Said a senior police officer, "This is the time and mentality Maoists are eagerly awaiting. What happened in Sukma (where the Maoists triggered an IED off to target a vehicle carrying Border Security Force personnel) can happen anywhere. Just because the elections are over there is no need to pat ourselves in the back and throw caution to the winds." The task of securing de-indiction os typically challenging as forces have to, while moving ahead, keep their sights behind. On top of that the Maoists have fine-tuned their strategy of maintaining flexibility of approach. Inspector General of Police (IGP) Bastar range, Arun Dev Gautam acknowledged this. "If our forces move in large numbers, it become easy for a small party of the insurgents to fire and scoot, like what happened in Dantewada on polling day. Given the density of forces, their bullets will more likely hit than miss our men. And if our teams are small, then they will congregate into larger formations and challenge us," he said. He added however that the forces, "are in no hurry to de-induct. Saferty of our men is the priority."

It was learnt that while some of the forces will be re-patriated, others will be re-deployed in northern Chattisgarh and states like Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan where elections are due.

As a response, local force commanders and Superintendents of Police in the districts are being given the leeway in designing their de-induction. "Even a constable of the local police will have to be listened to by the outside forces since he understands this area better," said a senior officer. Apart from the local police, the existing battalions of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPPF) in the state will oversee the withdrawal of forces. As stated, the National Highway (NH) 30, the main artery linking Raipur to Bastar and a road considered 'safe and open at all hours' will be under a ROP. "Our deployment of ROPs is from milestone to milestone till the last affected district of Kanker is reached," said one officer. SP Bijapur Prashant Agrawal, whose district had in 2008 polled the least of all in Chattisgarh said, "This election exercise gets completed only when all the forces are successfully de-inducted. The frustration of the Maoists has grown because many areas which supported them earlier have come out and voted and the polling percentage has grown from 29 in 2008 to over 44 this time."

Forces believe that with the conduct of polling remaining largely peaceful, Maoists have been dealt a blow. If during the de-induction too Maoists fail to achieve anything spectacular, it will dent the morale of their cadres at the same time boosting that of the forces.

On its part, the Indian Air Force (IAF) which is engaged in support of the state government, in its Operation Triveni has further enhanced its carrying capability by bringing in additional assets. Add to that the capability of all of its helicopters to perform night flying has helped a lot. "Eight helicopters have been brought in at Jagdalpur in addition to the four already stationed here for Ops Triveni. On our part, we have already flown more than 135 sorties in the run-up to the elections, ferrying more than 500 polling parties and their security staff. When it comes to de-induction, you can simply double the statistics and may be go a little beyond too," said an officer aware of the situation.

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Publication:Headlines Today (New Delhi, India)
Date:Nov 13, 2013
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