The killing of 15 policemen in an ambush last week at Markegaon village in Gadchiroli does not come as a surprise to the old hands in the force who have served almost their entire tenure in the Naxalite-affected belt of the state.
First of all, the left-wing extremists had tried an ambush on two previous occasions near Markegaon.
Then, the Naxalite-belt veterans, who all requested anonymity because they were not authorised to speak to the media, said the police had a reasonable idea of the methods used by the left-wing rebels to lure policemen into ambushes and the 15 men who died on February 1 were aware of the danger they were walking into when they went to investigate a case of arson.
“We know the methods the Naxalites use to trap policemen,” said a senior police officer. “That was one of the reasons why no police officer visited the village for a panchnama for two days after the left-wing rebels had set three vehicles on fire.”
The use of burning vehicles as a bait for the police, who according to rules have to conduct a spot investigation in a case of arson, is nothing new.
“It is not that we did not have intelligence,” said another officer. “They had attempted a similar ambush in Bhamragarh area a year ago, but it did not succeed.”
Also, police officials said there was enough information on Naxalites meetings and plans to set a trap for the ambush.
“We get constant inputs from sources in the area on what Naxalites discuss in their meetings,” said a third officer. “A mistake led to the murder of those 15.”
After the mistake was discovered, the police party could very well have retreated when four of its members were hurt in the Naxalites’ opening salvo.
“But they aired the information to us and chose to fight on,” said an Indian Police Service officer.