Fifteen Gadchiroli police personnel and the driver of a private vehicle they were travelling in were blown up when Maoists triggered an IED blast at Lendhri nullah close to the Maharashtra-Chhattisgarh border on Wednesday afternoon in the worst attack on security forces in the area in 10 years.
The incident took place when the Quick Response Team personnel from Kurkheda police station, over 150 km from Nagpur, were headed towards Dadapur village near Purada, where the Maoists had torched dozens of vehicles of a Chhattisgarh based road construction company earlier in the day.
It came as a blow on Maharashtra’s Foundation Day because the incident seemed planned—sources said the IED may have been placed under the road tarmac months ago — and came days after the extremists ended their ‘martyr’s week’ on April 28 to mark the killing of 40 cadres, many of them women, by security forces on April 22-23 last year. In fact, they had attacked two parties of C-60 commandos earlier this week at Gondurwahi forest near Koti in Etapalli district, but the commandos managed to rip through the ambush and gunned down senior Maoist woman commander Ramko Narote and another woman extremist.
Maharashtra police chief Subodh Jaiswal, speaking in Mumbai, vowed a “befitting” response to the “cowardly” attack, but seemed to rule out an intelligence failure. “This is not proper to say it was due to an intelligence failure. It’s a sad incident…We will fight back, we will take on the Naxalites. If more police personnel are needed, we will deploy immediately.” Governor C Vidyasagar Rao cancelled a reception and cultural programme scheduled for Maharashtra Day at Raj Bhavan.
CM Devendra Fadnavis also promised a fightback, tweeting, “The police will not lose their morale, in fact (they’ll) fight this menace with more force.”
On April 11, Gadchiroli-Chimur constituency recorded the highest voting in the state in the polls, ignoring a boycott call by Maoists.
The arson and subsequent blast on Wednesday are believed to be the handiwork of Maoists of Company 4, Kurkheda-Korchi-Khobramenda and Tippagarh dalams, and other formations under the north Gadchiroli division. After torching vehicles of the road construction firm, the Maoists seemed to have lain in wait for the police. Three vehicles left Kurkheda for Dadapur, about 40 km away, and the first two vehicles, carrying, among others, the sub-divisional police officer, cleared the spot. The third vehicle, a private MUV carrying the cops, was blown up.
Sources said the police made a big mistake travelling together in a vehicle during such a sensitive period. Also, if they had followed the standard operating procedure of using a road opening party on foot to scan the roads, the hiding Naxalites who had to trigger the IED could have been foiled. But they pointed out that the police perhaps never expected the IED to be planted on a road used by a large number of villagers.
Interestingly, the Maoists had put up posters at Dadapur village and across the district condemning the BJP governments at the Centre and state, PM Modi, CM Fadnavis, district guardian minister Ambrishrao Atram and the “Ambani Group” for ravaging natural resources of the district in the name of development. DIG, Naxal range, Ankush Shinde said an inquiry will take place. “We will take stock of the situation,” he said. Till filing of the report, the police were shifting the bodies to Gadchiroli for post-mortem.