Before security forces go after Maoists, the home ministry wants police in states like West Bengal to pull up their socks.
West Bengal withdrew forces from an anti-Naxalite operation a day after four personnel of the Eastern Frontier Rifles (EFR) - the state armed force – died in a rebel ambush in Midnapore district on Sunday, a home ministry official said on Wednesday.
The state dismantled the EFR camp near the Bengal-Jhargram border and ordered the personnel into the barracks.
The home ministry was informed of the withdrawal on Tuesday. Ministry officials called up the state government and police officials and instructed them to send the men back into the field.
However, the state was reportedly reluctant and some top home ministry officials had to give the police top brass an earful for withdrawing forces on the ground that they were “demoralised”.
“This isn’t how you fight and win…. It is the job of senior police officers to lead their men from the front when their men are killed,” a home ministry official said.
Binod Kumar Choubey, the Superintendent of Police in Chhattisgarh’s Rajnandgaon district, set an example in July when nearly 20 policemen were killed by Naxalites.
Choubey immediately reached the site with more forces, but went down fighting.
Chhattisgarh, home ministry officials agreed, was one of the few Naxal-infested states where the political and police leadership were equally committed to rid the state of the armed rebels.
This is not the first time the Bengal police have demonstrated what home ministry officials called “lack of professionalism”.
Sources in the security establishment said they were shocked when a few days after the Lalgarh operation started in June, the state police packed their bags on a weekend and left.
“They said something on the lines that they had to go back for the weekend. It was a Friday. They said a new set of people would come on Monday when the operations would resume,” an official said.
Ministry officials had then tried to quietly nudge the state police to pull up their socks.
Eyebrows were again raised in the home ministry in October when the Bengal government swapped Maoist sympathisers with an abducted police officer, terming it an “exceptional decision” on “humanitarian grounds.
Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee later insisted his government had not “surrendered to Maoists” and the fight in Lalgarh would continue.