For six days, Mudkam Deva surveyed Basaguda police station, one of the most sensitive outposts in Maoist-affected Bijapur district, from the inside. He had been detained from a checkpost on the Basaguda-Bijapur road, a stretch one officer described as “throwing up an IED every three days”.
Officers at the station told The Indian Express that Deva admitted he was a Maoist on a reconnaissance mission. In the days that he spent at the station, he seemed amenable to providing information, and said he was open to the idea of surrender. Until 7.15 pm on May 18, when a sentry on one of the eight towers saw Deva opening the wire mesh of one of the gates, and escaping into the jungle outside, an AK-47 and 90 rounds slung across his shoulder, and an Under Barrel Grenade Launcher (UBGL) with eight cells in a satchel in his hands.
At the Basaguda station on Saturday, three days after Deva escaped, there is an air of disbelief and impending doom. No orders for any punitive action have been issued. But Sharad Singh, the in-charge, knows that is just a matter of time. “I can’t believe something like this has happened here. All I can think about is Deva, and recovering the weapons. I know they will be used against us,” he said.
Police first spotted Deva walking down the Basaguda main road, just a few metres away from the station. “We asked him some questions, and his answers were not straightforward. When we brought him to the station, he told us he was a Maoist, and was on a reconnaissance mission. He was in his 20s and said he was from Bugdicheru village, 7 km away,” said Singh.
At the station, staff tried to convince him to talk and surrender. “He gained our trust. He laughed easily and was very intelligent. He helped us confirm, or so we think, the identities of many Naxals in the area, and gave us information about tactics. He told us he had been sent by Hidma (the commander of one of two Naxal battalions in Chhattisgarh), and knew him well. He seemed willing to surrender. But he was playing us all along. It was betrayal,” said a jawan at the station.
Inside the compound, Deva saw all the processes followed by the personnel. “Every day, at 7 pm, there is a roll call, when every jawan, except the sentries, gather at one spot. There are a hundred personnel here, and it takes time. On May 18, it was at this time that Deva acted,” said Singh.
That evening, Singh was not in the station. “My one and-a-half-year-old son had developed a bad cough, and I had taken him to the CRPF camp hospital across the road. My walkie talkie was with me, and suddenly I heard shouts that someone was seen running away from the west gate. I thought the Naxals were going to attack and rushed back,” Singh said.
Within minutes, the jawans realised that Deva was missing. They soon found that an AK-47, a UBGL, which can launch grenades as far as 300m, and ammunition were missing.
In their preliminary investigations, police discovered that the weapons and ammunition that had disappeared were kept with Mudiyami Shankar, a “sahayak arakshak”, who had left them in his barrack during roll call as a matter of practice. Shankar, colleagues say, had the weapons since he was the “best jawan” in the station, always told to lead parties during operations. “When the roll call happened, Deva must have slipped into the barrack, and found the AK 47 slipped under the sheet, and the UBGL, and the ammunition next to it,” said a jawan.
On Saturday, when The Indian Express reached the barrack, another AK-47 had similarly been slipped under one of the four beds. On the walls, hung on pegs, were satchels belonging to the personnel. “He put the UBGL and the ammunition in the satchel. He then opened the window, and pushed the AK-47 outside. The mark of the rifle butt can still be seen,” Singh said.
Deva exited the barrack, circled to where he had put the gun, and made his way to the west gate. Every day, from 7.15-7.30 pm, shifts of the sentries change. “We have eight sentry posts. Close to the change, the sentry on the post nearest to the west gate came down to stretch his legs. A sentry on another tower further away spotted someone opening the mesh wire, but couldn’t see who it was. He raised the alarm and we gave chase, but he disappeared into the foliage,” Singh said.
Officers said the gate from which Deva escaped, was the only one with relatively easy access and entry, given the mesh could be opened to allow trucks bringing supplies.
Top police officers in Raipur told The Indian Express that the matter “was very serious” and a detailed report had been sought. “I have received a basic report and asked for a detailed one. There has been negligence and carelessness, and action will definitely be taken. No weapon should be left with individuals, and should be kept in the armory. They are normally issued only for operations,” said D M Awasthi, Special D-G, Anti Naxal Operations.
Awasthi said a committee would be formed to create a standard operating procedure. “These procedures are already laid out but not followed. We will reiterate them again,” Awasthi said.
Back in Basaguda, many are afraid that Mudiyami Shankar will be sacked. But Shankar has only one thing on his mind: “I have to bring both back… the weapons and Deva.”
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