What happened when Maoists infiltrated a police base

NAGPUR: The tri-junction of Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh – once the safest haven and transit corridor for Maoists – has become a Bermuda Triangle for them. The insurgents simply disappear in the region like aircraft and ships were said to disappear from the ‘Triangle’ in the North Atlantic Ocean in the early- and mid-1900s.The change came about because of the Murkutdoh base camp, probably the only post in the country where security forces of three states are deployed under the command of a state police officer. The camp is about 60km away from Gondia in eastern Vidarbha region in Maharashtra. After it was set up in 2019, Maoists suffered a major setback as the corridor linking their almost-inaccessible Abujhmadh headquarters on the Maharashtra-Chhattisgarh border was cut off from their new base in MP’s Kanha National Park.The permanent presence of security forces at the trijunction also derailed the Maoist plan to have a Red corridor through the Maharashtra-MP-Chhattisgarh axis. While a couple of posts like Malaida in Chhattisgarh also have interstate teams, they are not at Murkutdoh’s scale. “The Murkutdoh camp was opened for quick action on inputs from any of the three states,” says Nikhil Pingale, SP, Gondia, adding that it reduces the time required for interstate coordination. Before the unified camp came up, the Maoists took advantage of jurisdictional limits and fled across the border whenever they sensed security forces from a state were closing in on them. They could shift their base between Abujhmadh and Kanha to keep the security forces guessing. And Murkutdoh had become a safe place for them to hold meetings of dalams, platoons and other logistics teams, besides being a transit point. Transforming people’s livesAt the Murkutdoh camp, MP’s Hawk Force, district police from Chhattisgarh, and Maharashtra’s C-60 commandos and Gondia district police serve together under assistant police inspector Dinesh Bagul of Maharashtra Police, who worked in Mumbai before being posted at the base camp. The jawans are from diverse cultures and speak different dialects, but they are united in their mission to eliminate the Red terror. The camp’s presence has been transformative for the region. Last year, Maharashtra was able to hold gram panchayat elections there with 70% voting, after failed attempts in 2005, 2009, 2014 and 2019 when zerovoting or poll boycott was the norm. “In the last elections, there was a polling booth at Murkutdoh where nearly 70% people voted,” says Vijay Bhise, senior divisional police officer of Amgaon division. In 2005, Maoists had killed eight personnel, including two officers on poll duty. In 2019, a polling booth was set up 13km away at Dhanegaon for voters from Murkutdoh and two hamlets nearby. But none came to vote. Villagers slowly developed faith in the camp personnel and opened up to them, says Bagul. “They recall the days when 100-odd Maoists would camp inside and cross the village,” he says. “Now, the security forces dominate here, patrol the forested hills and visit MP and Chhattisgarh upon inputs of Maoist presence.” Dominating the groundThe jawans at Murkutdoh have so far laid 49 ambushes, cornering Maoists in 53 shortrange and 13 long-range patrols. “The Maoists keep holding meetings in the villages, but flee once they sniff approaching forces,” an official told TOI. “To date, Hawk Force has remained a zerocasualty anti-Maoist force,” says its in-charge, sub-inspector Chandrashekhar Patel, extolling the aggressive C-60 commandos as good partners in the battlefield. Bagul says the Maoists mostly move through Lendhijhari forest in MP and enter Maharashtra through Bagh Nadi and Katema areas in Chhattisgarh before passing through Murkutdoh to get logistical support. “We launch operations in coordination with Cobra Battalion across the Maharashtra-MP border. Our force from Murkutdoh crosses Sitapala hills to enter MP and return. We cut off their logistics support, apart from blocking the corridor,” says Bagul. Locals say Maoist leaders like divisional committee member Vikas alias Anil Nagpure of Malajkhand Dalam, commander Sangita alias Kavita Pandhare from Tanda Dalam and divisional committee member Devchand alias Chandu of Darekasa Dalam are trying to make a comeback, but Murkutdoh personnel are pushing them down south. Local intelligence keyMurkutdoh monitors Maoist routes via Lodhewadi, Laxman Jhala, Tekajhari, Darekasa and Dandari Jharan, which are also areas of Maoist formations like Platoon 55, Darekasa Dalam, Tanda Dalam and Malajkhand Dalam that had earlier spread terror in nearby villages. Days start at the Murkutdoh camp with a roll call around 6am, followed by physical training. The headcount is done twice a day to ensure nobody is missing. The jawans meet villagers during the day and try to help solve their problems or refer the issues to Salekasa police post. These meetings help them collect intelligence about the Maoists and plan their operations. “The operations are discussed with three state officers, but commanded by Ashok Bankar, additional SP, operations cell, Deori,” says Bagul, who is assisted by subi n s p e c t o r s R av i n d r a Khamgar, Gnyaneshwar Kayande and Parameshwar Daberao of Maharashtra State Reserve Police Force, Hawk Force’s sub-inspector Chandrashekhar Patel from MP and assistant sub-inspector Jeevraj Rawate from Chhattisgarh. Sandip Patil, DIG of Maharashtra Police and the state anti-Naxal operation (ANO) cell, says the Murkutdoh model should be replicated elsewhere also. Bonding With The Residents The jawans and officers at Murkutdoh are from different cultures, but Hawk Force’s Patel says the language barrier does not pose a problem in coordination. For example, Chhattisgarh constable Vikas Kesarwani says he has picked up Marathi words like ‘ikre ya’ (come here), ‘tikre jaa’ (go there) and ‘lapun bas’ (hide yourself). “We all learn each other’s language, culture and traditions,” he says. “The difference is mainly in food,” says Patel. “Our Maharashtrian counterparts enjoy spicy food, we prefer a milder diet. It’s also the case with jawans from Chhattisgarh. Otherwise, we live, laugh and cry together.” The jawans keep in touch with their families through WhatsApp video calls. Video games, cricket and outdoor games provide recreation, and their talk is mostly about Maoist tactics, jungle warfare and analyses of past operations. Bhise says the Murkutdoh personnel also help the locals. “Be it someone’s daughter’s wedding or rushing medical help,” the jawans are always ready. They also hold free police training and recruitment preparation camps, and participate in village festivals, especially Ganeshotsav. “Personnel organise barakhana (feast) on three of the 10 days of festivities. They also participate in the idol immersion procession to a lake inside the forest around 3km away. It is the time when the villagers escort the police to protect them from any possible attack,” says Bagul.

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