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Mainstream, Vol XLVIII, No 12, March 13, 2010

Suspend the Senior Officer involved in the Silda Fiasco

Friday 19 March 2010, by D. Bandyopadhyay

On February 15, 2010, around 5 pm in the late afternoon, a group of armed Maoists attacked the camp of the Eastern Frontier Rifles at the Silda bazaar area. [Silda happens to be some 30 km from Midnapore town and 14 km from Jhargram in West Bengal.] They set fire to the camp and killed two-to-four riflemen while injuring a dozen others. No civilian was killed or injured by the firing. Then they decamped with 47 rifles and a large volume of ammunition.

The Eastern Frontier Rifles is a paramilitary armed police force of the West Bengal Government. It was raised by the British at the turn of the last century to keep peace and order in the Chittagong Hill Tracts and the neighbouring Lushai Hill district of Assam. The EFR used to be sent for punitive expedition to prevent incursions by the Arakanese and other hostile tribes residing in Burma. Its headquarters used to be at Dacca. It was entirely officered by the British. It was a formidable fighting force. There used to be such fear about them that their mere deployment used to bring peace in the striferidden areas. After partition, it moved its headquarters to Salua in West Midnapore district.

This short introduction is necessary only to indicate the depth of decadence and decline it has fallen into under three decades of CPI-M rule in West Bengal. With total erosion of discipline, orderliness and strictness all around, such an elite force lost its élan, regimen and fighting ability to be crushed and defeated by a rag-tag ensemble of Maoist armed men and women. On the day of the incident, 38 riflemen were present out of a total strength of 51. These riflemen were enjoying their off-duty leisure when the Maoists fell on them like a thunderbolt. Twentyfour riflemen were killed. The rest were injured. The camp was razed to the ground. It was a case of total success for the attackers.

This abject failure of the riflemen to retaliate and militarily respond could be attributed to the general sense of complacency of the superior officers, breakdown of discipline, lack of proper training and the overall slackness which has contaminated every government organisation under CPI-M rule. The offensive by the joint Central and State paramilitary forces was supposed to have achieved its purpose with the re-induction of roughly 5000 armed CPI-M goons who followed the joint forces. The CPI-M was happy to put back their illegally armed goondas into the territory from which they were driven out.

One could ask a simple question: how could the officers involved in the joint operations allow these CPI-M goons carrying illicit arms to operate openly in the “reconquered” territory? How could they be sure that these CPI-M cadres would not be selling off their arms to the Maoists at a price? Yet the officers of joint operations turn a blind eye to their illegal activities.

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The press reported that CM Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had placed a demand for grant-in-aid of Rs 500 crores for the development of Lalgarh and Jungle Mahal. The Centre should not release any money unless it is satisfied as to the reasons for non-development of these areas in spite of substantial Central grants earlier. This new fund, if sanctioned, would be embezzled at the source to equip these 5000 strong CPI-M thugs who had to be kept there till the general elections of 2011. The bill of materials is as follows: (i) 5000 AK-47 series refiles at the rate of Rs 75,000 per piece amounting to Rs 375 crores; (ii) 500,000 rounds of ammunition at the rate of 500 rounds per rifle at the approximate price of Rs 125 per round amounting to Rs 7.5 crores; (iii) upkeep of this illegal army for one-and-a-half years at the lump amount of Rs 120 crores. One could fit Rs 500 crores into these three items mentioned above. Let the CPI-M Government spend the already earmarked funds for the development of Jungle Mahal most of which is Central grant. Till money is spent properly, no further Central fund should be sanctioned.

Maoists followed the 2500-year-old tactical doctrine of Sun Tzu. His first dictum was: “Let your plans be dark and impenetrable as night, and when you move fall like a thunderbolt.” His other advice was: “Let your rapidity be that of the wind and your compactness that of the forest.” (p. 42) And his third principle was: “Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you were not expected.” (Sun Tzu: The Art of War, James Clavell, 1985, p. 12) If one analyses the newspaper reports about the Maoist attack on Silda, one would find that it fits in neatly with these doctrines.

To reach Silda from the hideout in Jharkhand, Maoists traversed 25/30 km. Even though they might have avoided thickly populated area, they had to pass through several human habitations. One wondered in these days of modern phone, why didn’t anyone send an alert message to any police station/outpost that a group of armed Maoists was moving in a certain direction? This was mainly because the local people had so much wrath, abhorrence and revulsion against the joint forces that they had a vicarious pleasure in thinking that their tormentors were going to be chastised. The more the joint forces torture the local men and women, the greater would be the mass base of the Maoists.

According to the media reports, police reinforcement along with the senior police officers arrived at the scene 16 hours after the incident. Senior officers were afraid to move at night. Even if they marched from Jhargram, which is only 14 km from Silda, they could have reached within 10 o’clock at night. Instead they allowed the dead bodies to be strewn about in the entire camp area for 16 hours. And the injured were denied medical attention during the whole night.

For this grave dereliction of duty, utter negligence to respond to the needs of the fallen and injured subordinate men and officers, abominable cowardice in the face of hostile action and related matters, the Director General of Police, the Inspector General of Police (Western Range), the concerned Deputy Inspector General of Police, Superintendent of Police (West Midnapore) who had received the IB alert at midday and failed to send the message to all the camps and the Commandant of the Battalion to which the fallen and injured men belonged, should be placed under suspension. This should be followed by an inquiry by a senior and serving Lieutenant General of the Indian Army.

The author, who has now retired from service, is a former Secretary, Revenue, and the erstwhile Secretary, Rural Development, Government of India.

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