It was 2am at a remote CRPF post in Bijapur, deep in the jungles of Chhattisgarh’s Bastar region. A group of men were assembled at a make-shift briefing room before setting out on a patrol through the forests.
Their commander began by explaining the dos and don’ts: “Think of your own life and that of your children. You are not Italians. The media and the diplomats will not come to your rescue. Follow the drill and do not get separated from each other. Are you ready?”
The reply was loud and clear: “Yes sir.”
The reference, obviously, was to the release of Paolo Bosusco and Claudio Colangelo by the Odisha Maoists. It has had a strange effect across the border in Chhattisgarh — security forces have become cagey about being taken hostage by the rebels.
In Bastar — the large swathe that encompasses Dantewada, Bijapur and Narayanpur districts — wireless sets have been crackling with high-voltage alerts, following a top-priority intelligence report sent out to the CRPF battalions, warning that the ‘red army’ might be planning to abduct jawans “to stop the ongoing special operations”.
What’s more, there are at least one dozen Naxals in Chhattisgarh’s jails that their colleagues would want swapped.
The commanders of the 17 battalions — 15 of them are based in Bastar — have been briefing their men about how to avoid getting trapped by the Maoists. For, a senior CRPF officer, who refused to be identified, said, “Let’s face it, the government may not pay as much attention to the kidnapping of jawans as it did to the Italians.”
The dos and don’ts are simple: walk in a single file, together. Never go out in ones and twos and cling on to your rifles. For, they are your only protectors. Even when a jawan goes on leave, he should be accompanied by at least eight men from Bastar to Jagdalpur, at least 300 km away.