The CPI-Maoist attack in Dumka’s Sikaripara on Thursday evening has brought to the fore serious questions about the nature of deployment of central forces while exposing the state police’s claim that it is close to self-sufficiency.
Primary analysis has revealed that there were serious lapses in observing the Standard Operating Procedure which began at the level of the Deputy Commissioner and Superintendent of Police. However, concerned officials are in a bind as to what action can be taken against them, as both DC Harsh Mangalam and SP Nirmal Kumar Mishra are perceived to be close to Chief Minister Hemant Soren, also the MLA from Dumka.
The attack came at the end of a relatively peaceful three-phase polling in the state which saw no LWE-related casualties, provoking Director General of Police Rajeev Kumar to say, “We had ensured peaceful elections by keeping strictly to the SOP. We will have to examine what went wrong here.” Examining the violations to the SOP would be opening a Pandora’s Box: the Tata Magic that was fired upon and the mini bus that the IED tore through on the Sarsajor-Palasi road were not supposed to be there in the first place. The poll officials were to walk back with the EVMs.
Fingers will be pointed at Lambodhar Mahato, the sector magistrate travelling in the Magic who allegedly took the bus to booths 100 and 101, located at Primary School, Jamkandar and Upgraded Middle School, Asma respectively. However, one wonders where he got his orders from. “At the moment, it would be wrong to point fingers at the DC as there is nothing that suggests that he gave the orders for those particular booths. However, we have to find out why officials who walked to the booth took a bus back,” said Jharkhand’s Chief Electoral Officer P.K. Jajoria, who also said that two sets of EVMs were damaged in the blasts; there would be a re-poll. A source in the state police said that the SOP was violated everywhere. “The DC is new; he does not understand the risks. In order to complete the polls early, he allowed the bus to go in,” said a senior officer.
The sector magistrate’s mistake could have been corrected by security personnel posted at the booths, who could have insisted that they walk back. Howeer, while CRPF personnel – posted at booth 100 – walked, district police personnel boarded the bus. “The CRPF personnel even asked at least one ASI-ranked officer of the district police to walk, but he did not pay heed,” said an officer of the state police.
As a result, no CRPF personnel was killed in the encounter – four personnel of the Dumka district police and one of Garhwa police were killed while three policemen of Dumka and two of Garhwa were injured. An official of the State Bank of India, another of the Dairy Development Board and the cleaner of the mini bus too, died. At least three civilians – a headmaster, an official of the Industries Department and the driver of the mini bus – sustained injuries.
The incident puts paid to the state police’s claim that it is ready for a central forces-free existence and that only a slack in recruitment is keeping the CRPF. There are also questions being raised about force deployment – whether too many CRPF personnel were posted in the urban areas while the poorly trained district personnel had to man some high-risk booths. It is not yet known whether there will be an investigation into wheher the deployment, if faulty, was done maliciously to help anyone. “The CRPF was in majority in Maoist areas too. But despite us telling them repeatedly to be careful, our police officers simply do not listen,” said Dumka’s Superintendent of Police Nirmal Kumar Mishra.
The incident came a day and five years after the April 23, 2009 attack on a party returning after Lok Sabha polls within Sikaripara’s adjacent Kathikund police station limits, when one police personnel died. However, what resonates more is the fact that the attack happened less than a year after the July 2 attack that killed Pakur’s Superintendent of Police Amarjit Balihar within Kathikund.
The state police will regret the fact that it has been able to arrest only three individuals whom even they admit are allegedly low-level CPI-Maoist operatives in the Balihar murder case. This is because Thursday evening’s attack bears striking similarities to the July 2 incident, suggesting the same individual planned and executed both. Even DGP Kumar admitted on Friday that his officers suspect Santhal Pargana Zonal Commander Praveel’s hand; he was named in the Balihar murder too.
With the exception of the use of the IED – an escalation which resulted in the first IED-related casualties in the Santhal Pargana region – almost everything about the two attacks mirror each other. A culvert was chosen as the point of attack – in Thursday’s case, one made by farmers by breaking the concrete road to bring water. The Maoists positioned themselves in foilage on the right flank in both cases and targeted the driver as well as tyres of the lead vehicle in the convoy. This slowed down the mini bus on Thursday, and as it negotiated the culvert, the IED was set off.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that the Maoists chased policemen who ran intothe field on the left and shot them: a body was recovered about 100 metres away from the point of occurrence. There is also a suggestion that they went after policemen – magistrate Mahato, who raised his arms, was not attacked. The driver of the bus made it to a CRPF camp two kilometres away with minor injuries while the bus’ s cleaner died in the blast.