On June 29, 2008, a team of 60 Greyhounds of the Andhra Pradesh police were returning in two boats from a combing operation in a cut-off area of Malkangiri, Odisha, when one of the groups was ambushed by Maoists while crossing a narrow channel in the Balimella reservoir. All 38 occupants of the boat, 32 of whom were Greyhounds commandos, were killed.
Eight years later, the same force along with Odisha police received information that 50-odd Maoists, with some top leaders, would hold a meeting in the same cut-off area on October 24. The forces surprised the Maoists, and a joint team of Greyhounds and Odisha police killed 24 Maoists (until Monday) including some leaders carrying rewards on their heads.
Security establishment sources are describing the operation as one of the biggest in recent years and certainly a major success in the Andhra-Odisha-Border (AOB) area. “These men (the slain leaders) have led the Maoist operations in the AOB area for a decade now. With their death the AOB leadership is severely dented,” a central intelligence officer posted in Odisha said.
So what worked on October 24, 2016, that had failed on June 29, 2008? “Weather, geography and good intelligence,” said Malkangiri SP Mitrabhanu Mahapatra, who led the Odisha police team. “Intelligence was very good and so an operation was launched from the Andhra side. It was foggy through the night and in the morning, so our movement could not be tracked. The geography [hills] too helped conceal our movement. Also the Maoists, holding a meeting in their bastion, were a little less guarded, not anticipating an attack.”
K Durga Prasad, who helped raise the Greyhounds force and is director general of CRPF, the biggest force fighting Maoists, lauded the operation.
“The Greyhounds committed some mistakes in 2008 which they seem to have corrected this time. One of the reasons for the repeated success of Greyhounds is that they are quick learners. It’s an excellent operation,” he said.
The intelligence officer said the cut-off area had been out of bounds for forces for a long time. “Maoists have always had the upper hand here. It’s a redemption of sorts for the Greyhounds. Maoists have already been flushed
out of Koraput and are feeling the pressure in Malkangiri,” the officer said.
Mahapatra cited successes in past years: “There have been mass surrenders. Several encounters have taken place where scores of Maoist cadres have been killed in the past few years. All of this has been pushing Maoists out of Malkangiri and towards cut-off areas. Earlier they would sneak into mainland when forces made a movement in cut-off area and then go back. It’s not easy now,” he said, adding that Padia Dalam and Kalimela areas have been almost cleared of Maoists.
The area is a cluster of 150-odd villages spread over several square kilometres of hilly terrain on the Andhra-Odisha border. The area has been cut off from the mainland for over 60 years due to two reservoirs, Mahckund and
Balimela. Like several tribal patches in central India, this is one area where the administration has not reached yet. A bridge to connect the area with the mainland has been under construction for decades but remains incomplete.
“By next June, the Gurupriyo bridge will be complete and then forces can move with full might into the cut-off area from Odisha,” Mahapatra said.