Forces can’t afford to lower guard

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By Sandeep Sahu

For once, security forces engaged in anti-Maoist operations have something to rejoice about. On the receiving end of Maoist depredations for long, they have registered a spectacular success in an area that has proved to be a graveyard for them over the years.

The killing of as many as 24 Maoist cadres – among them dreaded Maoist leaders like Garjala Ravi alias Comrade Uday and Comrade Daya – in the Beijingi forests in what is known as the ‘cut off’ area may well have tilted the scales decisively in favour of the security forces in the Maoist bastion of Malkangiri. True, with hundreds of desertions and several reverses in the recent past, the Maoists are not quite the force they used to be in their erstwhile stronghold. But that doesn’t take anything away from the success of the Monday morning encounter because the Maoists are still capable of mounting audacious attacks on the security forces.

What has apparently turned the tide decisively against the Maoists and in favour of security forces is the dwindling support of the tribals in the cut off area. Exasperated after wanton killings of innocent tribals on the mere suspicion of being police informers, the locals have now turned against their former benefactors. This became obvious in two recent cases: first when hundreds of Maoist sympathisers surrendered to police in March-April this year and then again on October 1 this year when Maoists hijacked two motor boats run by the government to ferry people across the Chitrakonda reservoir to force people of six panchayats to attend a meeting convened at Jantri village where they were exhorted to boycott the panchayat polls scheduled in February next year.

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It is a measure of the falling fire power of the Maoists that work on the Gurupriya bridge, repeatedly stalled over the years because of the Maoist threat, is now going apace and looks like being completed by the revised deadline of the winter of 2017 – or may be even earlier. Attempts by them to mobilise people’s support against the bridge have come a cropper as the people in the cut off area appear to have realised that it could end their isolation for good.

Once completed, this all -important bridge would provide access to the inaccessible cut off area, a cluster of 150 odd villages where the benefits of government schemes are yet to reach. Besides, it would also make the forests of the cut off area, a safe haven for Maoists for years, highly vulnerable to an attacks by the security forces.

Monday’s operation was a perfect example of perfect coordination between security forces of Odisha and Andhra Pradesh. It was certainly not the first joint operation by the forces of the two neighboring states. But this was the first time when everything from intelligence sharing to back up support went with clinical precision.

While the encounter has certainly boosted the morale of the security forces engaged in anti-Maoist operations in a difficult terrain, it could prove suicidal to believe that the enemy has been decimated. Maoists have taken such reverses in their stride and bounced back with spectacular ambushes on security forces in the past and there is no reason to believe they cannot do so again, especially since the cut off area borders Chhattisgarh where the Red Rebels are still a mighty force to reckon with. The need of the hour, therefore, is not to lower the guard and to be on the alert all the time.

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