A posse of troop carriers stands outside a roadside tea-stall on NH 43 near Kachnar, 270 km south of Chhattisgarh’s capital, Raipur. Jawans loll about on the benches, enjoying a respite from their taxing journey. Kachnar is on the outskirts of Bastar, the region in south Chhattisgarh that has been a hotbed of Maoist activity for the past two decades and that will be the scene of a massive “joint operation” against the red guerrillas starting sometime later next month.
Besides the state police, the Central Reserve Police Force, Border Security Force, Indo-Tibetan Border Police and Sashastra Suraksha Bal will be part of the joint operations, says the police spokesperson and inspector general, R.K. Vij. Helipads have come up in many places across Bastar to help the forces move speedily across the area. “GPS gadgets and satellite phones are being used to aid the movement of forces in the forests — a new initiative,” says an official, who does not wish to be named.
Besides Bastar, the forces are also travelling west, towards Rajnandgaon, where 30 policemen were killed in an attack in July.
They are progressing cautiously, sniffing for landmines and ambushes which have claimed most of the casualties among their ranks. “We also need to ensure development work begins in areas we have secured from the Maoists,” says Chhattisgarh director general of police Vishwaranjan. “Since most of the men are new to Chhattisgarh, they are undergoing an induction course — getting familiar with the area, culture, language and traditions of the tribals, learning the dos and don’ts,” he adds. Special police officers are being recruited locally to support the forces and act as informers.
But how to identify the Maoist and his tribal footsoldiers, given that they may not be in fatigues? S.R.P. Kalluri, deputy inspector general in charge of Bijapur and Dantewada, has a simple solution: “If during our movement we don’t face an attack, it will be assumed that it is friendly terrain. But if our entry provokes an attack, the forces will come down heavily on whoever fired on us.”