In Gadchiroli, Maoists encountered the perfect ambush

In Gadchiroli, Maoists encountered the perfect ambush

They were supposed to attend a wedding in a village, but ‘internal sabotage’ helped C-60 commandos launch an attack that left 34 cadres dead

It was a perfect ambush. So perfect that even the Maharashtra police special anti-Naxal Unit, the C-60, was surprised. Thirty-four Maoists were confirmed killed. And not a single policeman.

Based on many accounts, here is how it apparently happened. On April 22, a wedding was scheduled in Kasansur village in Tadgoan under Bhamragad division of Maharashtra’s Gadchiroli district. The groom was from Kasansur and the bride from Gatepalli, the native village of Maoist leader Sainath who was in-charge of Perimili Dalam and the Divisional Committee member of the CPI (Maoist). The Maoists were coming to attend the wedding. For two weeks ahead, police had information that the dalams (a dalam has 10 to 15 Maoists) headed by Shrinu alias Srikant and Sainath were moving north from Kalled in Sironcha division of Gadchiroli. A week before the wedding, they were in Perimili area conducting a series of public meetings over the crisis arising from collapse of tendu leaf sale this year.

On April 21 evening, the Maoists set up camp three kilometres from Boria village. They chose a difficult terrain near the Indravati river with a steep forested slope between Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh as a defence.

At 6 a.m. on April 22, when the Maoists were unguarded, bullets started raining from all sides and grenades were hurled.

Some 64 C-60 commandos had sneaked in hours ago from the Chattisgarh side.

Only some Maoists could retaliate, weakly. The police picked them out one by one and shot them dead. A police source said, Sainath used the weapons of other Maoists when he ran out of bullets, three times. But he could not withstand the heavy firing and grenades.

Villagers in Boriya could hear the gunshots until 3 p.m. When the guns fell silent, the police saw that it was their biggest success in the five-decade-long history of Left Wing Extremism. A total 34 bodies of Maoists were recovered from the area. Along with a second encounter on April 23 in the same district, the loss to the extremists stands at 40 dead.

No chance to surrender?

The police claim they gave a chance to the Maoists to surrender and opened fire only in self-defence. This version appears to be at odds with the accounts of villagers. No one was spared, including women Maoists, who were bathing in the river or the injured who wanted to surrender. Those who survived the gun battle and grenade blasts were left with no option but to jump into the Indravati. Their bodies floated for two days before a local reporter spotted them and alerted the police. There were seventeen bodies floating and photos showed burn and bullet marks.

Apparently, there was a tip-off from someone inside the dalam. The wedding at the centre of the operation did go ahead on April 22.

A former senior Maoist from the Danda Karanya Special Zonal Committee, which is in-charge of Bastar and Gadchiroli, said, “The information could have come from the Maoists who recently surrendered and their contacts. I have never seen something like this in my 22 years as a Maoist. The cadres will not retaliate immediately,and will investigate and assess their strength before reacting.”

A theory has surfaced, of the rebels being drugged through their meal.

However, the Boriya villagers who helped the police in recovering the bodies from the river, ruled out this possibility. They said a Maoist camp was set up near the river and there was a long gun battle on April 22.

In the second encounter in Jimalgatta on April 23, six Maoists were killed. Local sources said a senior member, Nandu, who was shown to have been killed in an encounter in Rajaram Khandla area on April 23, was seen with leaders Shrinu and Sainath on April 21.

A question being raised is that Nandu and five other Maoists may have been caught during the Kasansur encounter and then taken to Rajaram Khandla forest and killed.

Gatepalli villagers told Gadchiroli police that eight residents are missing after the encounter. “Eight families from Gatepalli informed that these eight people, including five women, had gone to attend the wedding in Kasansur. But another Gatepalli villager, who attended the wedding, informed us that they did not go there. We have identified 19 bodies and handed over 14 to relatives,” Gadchiroli Superintendent of Police, Abhinav Deshmukh said.

Maharashtra ADGP (Special Operations) D. Kanakratnam (centre) and other top officials address a press conference on April 24, 2018 on the Gadchiroli encounter.

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