Jharkhand police chief Rajeev Kumar claimed that Saranda forests have been liberated from Maoist stranglehold. To prove his claim, Kumar led a strong contingent of security forces to a hillock inside the once Maoists hub and spent the night on Tuesday under the clear sky.
No tents, lights, or beddings. All the officials and jawans accompanying him carried with them were their weapons — assault rifles, mortars and guns. Never before had any director general of police (DGP) in the state’s history trekked over 20km uphill inside one of Asia’s biggest Sal forests comprising over 700 hills, apparently strewn with landmines planted by the rebels during the last two decades. No DGP had in the past also dared the Maoist rebels in one of their safest dens, lying at ease under the clear sky and interacting with the jawans the entire night.
The general assessment HT gathered over the 24 hours spent with the forces in the jungle was that the rebels’ guns have certainly been silenced in the Saranda forest range, which has in the past witnessed maximum fatalities in Maoist violence. On December 30, 2002, Maoists had ambushed a police convoy in one of Saranda hills and killed 18 policemen besides injuring 20 others. On April 7, 2004, the rebels killed 29 policemen in this forest. The list of police-Maoists encounters in Saranda, with the former bearing the maximum brunt, is unending. The bloodshed continued as late as 2012.
However, of late, killings have stopped and winds of change are sweeping these hills for good. High voter turnouts in the parliamentary poll across the Saranda belt indicates the rebels have been driven away, at least temporarily, and the local residents want peace. Digha, one of the worst affected villages, polled 58.22% this election compared to 23.74% in the 2009 poll.
Similarly, Thalkobad, another Maoist hotbed, polled 72.04% compared to the 43.58% in the previous poll. In fact, all the polling booths in Saranda, barring Bitkilsoy, registered an average of above 60% turnout, which, according to the Election Commission, is a sign towards restoration of democracy in areas hit by Maoist violence.
Union rural development minister Jairam Ramesh is excited because he sees it as an effect of his ambitious Saranda Action Plan, a development plan he has initiated for the Maoist-hit area. “Changes are becoming visible now,” he said.
The police chief agrees. He said the action plan opened the doors of Saranda and his forces did the rest. “We have conquered Saranda and nobody can dispute it now,” said Kumar. “There is absolutely no fear of the rebels here anymore. The villagers now require immediate administrative attention,” he said.
The DGP and his troupe travelled by a goods train to Mahadevsal railway station and began trekking the hills thereafter. The team slept atop the Jateburu hill. “Our continuous mobility has forced all the top Maoist leaders to flee from Saranda,” said deputy inspector general (STF) Arun Kumar Singh.