After four days of ‘inaction’, the West Bengal police finally launched an operation to flush out Maoists from the restive Lalgarh area in West Midnapore district. The state police are being supported by the five companies of paramilitary force sent by the central government. At around 11 am today, about 150 state riot police personnel started approaching towards Lalgarh from the district headquarters. They were provided cover by two companies of BSF, who were armed with anti-mine device and sophisticated weapons.
At Pirakata, some 20 km away from Lalgarh, the state police met with first resistance. The Maoists were nowhere to be seen but a few hundred villagers, assembled under the banner of the People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities (PCAPA), tried to block their way. They had already dug up roads and felled trees to block vehicle movement. The police first appealed to them over loudspeaker, but when they did not oblige, the police resorted to baton charge and fired tear gas to disperse them. A few people were arrested there. Around 500 state police and five companies of central force have been deployed in this operation.
The police initiated a two-pronged attack on the Maoists — one force was approaching from Pirakata, while another had taken position near Ramgarh, and both were trying to converge towards Lalgarh. By 6 pm on Thursday, they reached Bhimpur, still 14 km away from Lalgarh. According to sources close to the state police, the central forces were keen to move another two kilometres ahead to reach a camp and spend the night there. But the state police were reluctant to move in the evening, fearing ambush by the Maoists. According to Kuldip Singh, IG (Western Range), they had sought permission from the government to spend the night there. If they decide finally to camp at Bhimpur, a small place with no electricity, then they would have to make use of some local school building as their camp. In Kolkata, the entire operation is being overseen by Bhupinder Singh, DG (coordination). Senior police officers were manning the IG (control room) throughout the day at Writers’ Buildings, the administrative headquarters of thesstate.
Meanwhile, Kishanji, the self-styled head of the military commission of the Maoists, had mocked at the police operation and boasted that the five companies of central force would not be adequate for this operation. He claimed that the poor villagers would successfully resist the state government’s police operation. But, PCAPA leader Chhatradhar Mahato sounded a bit pessimistic. The bravado was missing in his tone; he just said that they would try to put up some resistance to the police forces.
Earlier, before leaving for Delhi to attend his scheduled meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and to take part in the CPI(M) politburo meeting, Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee held a meeting with home department officials and senior police officials this morning. Later, a statement has been issued from the chief minister’s office, appealing to the people of Lalgarh not to offer themselves as human shield against the police forces. The statement has been printed in both Bengali and Santhal (Alchiki) languages and was distributed in the area. But, there is little possibility of distributing this leaflet among the members of the PCAPA before the police force took control of Lalgarh.