Lalgarh falls, but where have all the Maoists gone?
The triumphant security forces walked in, unchallenged, unopposed. There was no enemy to be fought or taken. The Maoists had melted away into the adjoining wilderness, perhaps to strike back at a time of their choosing.
Lalgarh, the Maoists fort, has fallen.
“This is the place we have been trying to reach for the last eight months,” said an exultant Manoj Verma, superintendent of police, West Midnapur. His boss, deputy inspector general Praveen Kumar smiled in agreement.
The joint police force — drawn from central and state police — had set out on June 18 following a country-wise uproar over armed Maoists taking over the tribal-dominated West Bengal district.
There were reports, mostly based on claims by the Maoists, that the security forces were being drawn into a trap. There was an ambush waiting for them in the jungles and in the villages. It’s been most peaceful so far.
But there forces have not yet arrested anyone of consequence in the Maoists hierarchy — number-two man Kishanji, Bikash, Sashadhar Mahato, Karan Hembram or even the leader of people’s committee Chhatradhar Mahato.
The forces found many of the houses in the troubled zone deserted, or the men were missing. According to local estimates, which couldn’t be independently verified, at least 10,000 men have gone into hiding in the entire Lalgarh area.
Women refused to provide any information. But it is learnt that hundreds of young men have left home in areas like Pathardanga, Kherishole, Katapahari and Khashjangol out of fear of police reprisals.
Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee is reported to have told cabinet colleagues during the day that the Maoists have left for Jharkhand during the ‘operation flush out’.
One of the core committee members, state PWD minister, Kshiti Goswami, said: “According to the chief minister, about 90 per cent of the ‘operation flush out’ is over. About 22 Maoists have been arrested.”
However, the police admit that reaching Katapahari, six km to west of Lalgarh, was just a third of the job done. The major work, getting rid and arresting Maoists, remains to be done.
The police have now targeted four areas or roads that need to be sanitised. These are roads from Pirakata to Goaltor via Sejua, to the north of Katapahari, the stretch from Khasjungol to Binpur, Lalgarh to Dharia and a stretch of 6 kilometre road from Binpur to Belatikri.