By Nilofar Suhrawardy, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)
NEW DELHI â€“ To what extent can Indian Police Service be entrusted with maintenance of law and order in the country? The question has been posed in context of three different sides of police having surfaced in the past week. If in one, police were the targeted victims, in another they fired at people and in third a policeman directed guns at his own colleagues. Beginning with first, at least 55 police personnel were gunned down in a Naxalite attack on a police outpost in Rani Bodli, in Dantewade district of Chhattisgarh (March 15). During a largely one-sided gun-battle that began at 2 AM (IST) and lasted till around 6 30 AM (IST), Naxal militants attacked an isolated police camp.
There were around 70 police personnel at the camp. In the fiercest attack of its kind, around 400 Naxalites, including women, began their strike with petrol bombs and other explosives, followed by a heavy volume of gunfire. Most police officers were asleep when the attack began. â€œMore than 300 heavily armed Naxalites (or Maoists/guerillas) surrounded the camp and opened indiscriminate fire, clearing the way for senior cadres including women to storm it,â€ a senior police officer said. Among the dead were 15 Chhattisgarh Armed Police (CAP) and 34 Special Police Officers (SPOs).
By the time paramilitary forces reached the spot, the attackers had dispersed, taking with them weapons of the forces. What was worse that some of policemenâ€™s bodies had been turned into booby traps with live bombs attached to them. This restricted the security personnel from even touching them, sources said. Bodies of five Naxals were found.
Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil condemned the incident and conveyed his sympathies to families of deceased policemen. Describing the incident as the worst in India, since Maoist insurgency began around four decades ago, former chief minister Ajit Jogi said: â€œThe BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) government cannot control the Maoists. The government has no right to be in power even for a minute.â€ A day after the attack, Chhattisgarh government suspended the officer-in-charge of police outpost which was stormed by Maoists.
The crisis in Nandigram (West Bengal) had been brewing for some time and had also rocked Parliament for greater part of last week. It hit the headlines when a farmersâ€™ protest against state governmentâ€™s plans to build an industrial park on their land led to the killing of 14 villagers in police firing (March 14).
Criticizing the incident, senior leader Jyoti Basu (Communist Party of India-Marxist) said: â€œThis is an unfortunate incident. From television clippings, I could only see the police firing. I didnâ€™t see any villagers attacking policemen.â€ Expressing regret over the incident, West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya said: â€œI am deeply distressed. If any responsibility has to be fixed, I as the chief minister, has to be held responsible.â€
Displaying protest against the killing of 14 farmers, West Bengal observed a day-long protest on Friday. As thousands of activists burned buses and blocked roads, school, colleges and businesses were closed across the state.
National Human Rights Commission has asked West Bengal Chief Secretary and Director General of Police (DGP) to submit a report on Nandigram violence in two weeks. Blaming West Bengal government for it, Leader of Opposition L.K. Advani described the incident as worse than Jallianwala Bagh massacre. During his visit to area, with a nine-member National Democratic Alliance (NDA) fact-finding team, Advani said: â€œI am shocked by what I have seenâ€¦ The Jallianwala Bagh massacre took place during the British rule, but the genocide in Nandigram happened more than five decades later in independent India.â€
Holding Bhattacharya responsible for 14 killings, Trinamool Congress Chief Mamata Bannerjee said: â€œWe want immediate arrest of chief minister.â€
Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) is conducting a probe into the incident.
Lest Nandigram fuel more such incidents, bowing to pressure from allies, the Left front government decided on Saturday to stop land acquisition at Nandigram and also withdraw police from there in phases to defuse the tension. Special economic zone (SEZ) and industrial hub would no longer be built at Nandigram, Left bloc leaders said.
Regarding the third incident, Nari Lapcha, a constable of Sikkim Armed Police, confessed to have shot dead five of his colleagues outside a bank in old Delhi where they were on guard duty (March 11). â€œHe blindly fired 10 rounds from his service rifle, which killed five on the spot. Lapcha also attacked them with an axe,â€ senior police official Alok Kumar said. Lapcha claims to have taken this extreme step after one of his colleagues targeted him for sodomy.
It is paradoxical that the police camp in Chhattisgarh itself could not counter the Maoistsâ€™ attack. It is feared that unless the government takes steps to contain Maoist extremism, which already affects 172 of the countryâ€™s 602 districts, the crisis may escalate. Each of these incidents indicates that the Indian police service is in need of an overhaul with substantial attention paid to policemenâ€™s training directed at increasing their vigilance and preventing them from wrong use of their weapons. Nandigram-crisis and Delhi-incident are gruesome indicators of horrendous impact that wrong use of weapons can have.