In one of the biggest counter-insurgency offensives in recent times, the Greyhounds’ wing of Telangana police is coordinating with Chhattisgarh police and the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) in fighting Maoists in the Dandakaranya forest in a strategic move cleared by the Ministry of Home affairs (MHA).
Due to this strategy, as many as eight top Maoists who ran operations in Chhattisgarh and Telangana were killed in an encounter at Botetong forest in Bijapur district of Chhattisgarh on 1 March. The fact that the encounter took place when the Maoists were holding a state committee meeting amid high vigil is considered to be a victory for the Greyhounds, CRPF and the Chhattisgarh police. The eight top Maoists who were killed were capable of individually launching operations against the security forces. Gottimukkala Ramesh, alias Latchanna (53), was a technical committee expert, who dealt with the landmines and weapons division of the Maoists in the Sukma division area. However, key Maoist leader Jagan, alias Haribhushan, escaped the encounter.
The eight-hour operation close to the area where the Maoists were holding the state committee meeting in the border areas of Chhattisgarh and Telangana came as a blow to the extremists who had put in place a three-layered sentry system. This is perhaps the first time in recent times that cops could strike at the Maoists while they were holding the state committee meet with over 50 top leaders. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Rajnath Singh have particularly congratulated Telangana police and the Greyhounds officials for the joint offensive. Enthused by the pat, Telangana Director General of Police Anurag Sharma held a meeting with officials last week to tackle the possible Maoist retaliation along the Telangana-Chhattisgarh border.
The Greyhounds’ wing of Telangana is an elite force of around 2,000 commandos trained to fight Maoists in their forest strongholds. Formed in 1989, this anti-Maoist force is developed mostly based on the guerilla tactics of Maoists in jungle and urban warfare. After the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh, the Centre had decided to allow the Telangana government to retain the Greyhounds as its headquarters has strategically been located in Hyderabad and would help counter Maoist threat from Maharashtra, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh and even Andhra Pradesh and Orissa.
The Telangana government has accorded top priority to Greyhounds and enhanced the salary and special perks by 40% making it one of the highly paid police units in the country. Equipped with ultramodern automatic weapons, this anti-insurgency wing has been led by several officials, including present CRPF Director General K. Durga Prasad once.
As part of its drive to clear the Chhattisgarh forests of Maoists who gained control over hundreds of villages and tribal hamlets since the late 1990s, the Centre has decided to adopt a multi-pronged strategy, whereby overt and covert police moves would be utilised, according to some senior officials involved in the operations who spoke to The Sunday Guardian.
Officials said that the 1 March encounter, named Operation Botetong, came after detailed homework for over six months, after a series of disastrous setbacks to the CRPF and Chhattisgarh police since 2012. In three years, the Central and state forces have lost around 300 men and another 90 civilians in the hands of Maoists.
“The situation is turning worse and the Centre is worried over the growing spread of Maoists in the hinterland of Chhattisgarh forests. The CRPF jawans who are posted on rotation are clueless about the forests and the local cops cannot match the Maoists in guerilla strikes,” a Telangana police official said, explaining the need to involve Greyhounds in the operations. At a series of anti-insurgency operation meetings held in Delhi since the BJP-led NDA government came to power two years ago, the focus has been on containing damage to security forces in Chhattisgarh and tackling Maoists in an intelligent manner. It was then decided to involve Greyhounds in the anti-Maoist operations in the central India. Chhattisgarh is the “headquarters” for Maoists who want to expand their activities all over the country. Of the four regional bureaus, Chhattisgarh is the centre of a Central Regional Bureau (CRB) that includes three committees: Dandakarayna special zonal committee, Telangana state committee and Andhra-Orissa border committee. Excepting the Northern regional bureau that takes care of Bengal, Jharkhand and Bihar, the other two—southern regional and western regional bureau —are nominal with limited squads. In view of the cops, the striking force of the Maoists is entirely dependent on their strength in the CRB. If Maoists are weakened in the CRB, they are weakened in the entire country, is the assessment of the MHA as well as Greyhounds. According to sources, the present strength of Maoists in Chhattisgarh forests ranges around 500 to 750, including squad members and couriers, whereas around 2,000 CRPF and local police are pressed into service to fight them. Still, the security forces are unable to take them on effectively. The Greyhounds are now acting on inputs gathered from around 25 former Maoists who had surrendered to the police since 2012. After the 1 March encounter, Telangana police has shared with Chhattisgarh cops the details of 22 top leaders of Maoists who are moving on borders of both the states. Overall, the cops have details of around 50 top Maoist leaders who are behind every offensive against the security forces. “After the failure of the ‘Salwa Judum’, a state-run drive against ultras, the present phase is crucial,” said a senior official.
There has been a backlash from Maoist sympathisers and civil rights groups in Telangana over the Botetong encounter. The Maoists gave a bandh call on 6 March that evoked poor response.
Telangana Home Minister Naini Narsimha Reddy told this newspaper on Wednesday: “We haven’t done anything; we just joined a joint operation in our neighboring state.”