Orissa media lancing in the dark!
The Naxal problem appears to be one of the most pressing issues facing Orissa, Chhattisgarh and West Bengal, and it has stirred the conscience of so many so violently that the Union Home Minister P Chidambaram was forced to do soul searching, which led to his resignation offer and the subsequent storm in the political circles. However, this story would focus on the Left menace centred in Orissa -- Malkangiri in particular -- and 'Operation Green Hunt' where Orissa police seem to have been reduced to a lame duck.
What is 'Operation Green Hunt', what would be its dimension and who is commanding over this much publicised anti-Naxal operation – these questions don’t have simple answers. The reality is that there is no clear-cut answer to any of the questions, which has opened the floodgate for a deluge of speculation lacing the social horizon. As regards the media, it is so much in the dark about the entire issue that it appears as if we are all writing or reporting for our fraternity only. Each one of us is made to believe the other. And the people, however, do not evince as much interest in this shadowed mission as during other such adventures, so we escape unscanned often.
Before the bloody carnage in Orissa on April 4, in which eleven jawans of the SOG were killed, barely three kilometres from Malkangiri border, the media in Orissa were a confused lot except for the fact that 5 battalions of paramilitary forces were landing somewhere in Koraput or Malkangiri. Some over-spirited media houses were quick to go for premature 'map-reading' of the Green Hunt's highly in-house strategies (if there was any) and some channels even started giving virtually daily bulletins on the operation with tips on the geographic advance of the troopers etc. Some others came out with occasionally inspiring quotes of one BSF top guy who was, perhaps, then camping in Kolkata, almost three days before the Naxal attack.
So, the highest TRP was with the term called 'sources', one of the most contagious media-monopolised-metaphors that sell so hot. And the Orissa police? It was so tight-lipped about <i>Hunting in the Green</i> (as on many other issues) that you can not expect a scribe to go beyond hearsay and lending it the exactitude by saying 'reliable', an often used endearing codeword. And it all (confusions) came with such remarkable frequency that an impression was created as if the war was really on.
But, it was on the Friday evening (April 3) when a senior police official (read a 'source') confided that he had no information about the movement of the security forces in either Koraput or Malkangiri for the operation, quite in contrast to the claims by a senior (very senior) official of paramilitary wing, as he was quoted by a local channel as saying that the pre-hunt exercise had almost begun and the forces were already on the job in the Koraput-Malkangiri border. And the DGP of Orissa was unwilling to respond to calls, let alone prophecise his bit (as usually he does) on the much-touted operation. However, yet another 'source' in the state police grudgingly said "look we are not in a hurry to take on the Maoists but, the exercise should not be read, given the complexities in those forests, as a final assault."
It all appeared so fuzzy for a while that one can well imagine the plight of any serious reader or viewer who must be following the course of the anti-Naxal drive. To make it bit transparent, when one contacted the field operation officials there (not knowing exactly where the real operation would start) it did not elicit any better response than "not now, please contact later". However, what a journo could make out from such nuanced utterances of the officials was predictable – ‘Green Hunt’ may be a beginning but it must have sent a chill down the spines of the Naxals and they must be on the run' and so on. "The operation is just a part of the overall strategies the government mulled to fight out the Naxals and now they must have got the message," said one officer with a caution that he should not be named in the report since DGP is the man who can only comment.
“Look, the security forces are doing their job,” was all one could get from the Chief Minister of Orissa, Naveen Patnaik, who is known for his innocuous one-liners on any serious topic, an unique knack in making any topic appear unintelligible unlike his counterparts in other states. It is a complete water-tight compartmentalisation between the governance and the media (people), where the 'sources' were the only buoy that a scribe can sail through the maze of confusions. So, a reader who was determined to get an exact dope on the tragic happening had to remain content with some inescapably weird conclusion. Abuses the people would heap on the scribes for their audacity to dish out a fusion of myth and reality, is another matter!
And when on Saturday (April 4), in the early hours, the Naxals abandoned the first thrill of a bloody plunder, it was hard to get any top cop to speak on the incident despite almost all of them being either in Cuttack or Bhubaneswar. It was only Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik who chipped in in his usual monosyllables with the condemnation and a pledge to fight-back. But the ones who were supposed to be in the know of things and let the people know, were surprisingly silent and more disappointing when the DGP of the state dismissed scribes' calls by saying he had nothing to say on the matter.
It was only after the blast on April 4 that the media men could catch hold of the DGP (Operations), as he had hardly any escape route in the deep woods of Koraput-Malkangiri border. In essence, an impression was created as if it were the paramilitary forces who were doing the operation while the state police was lending a moral support with its minimal participation. This has proved counterproductive in Malkangiri many a times before and on April 4 also.
Whenever any violence is perpetrated by the Naxals, Orissa normally deploys the jawans from the Special Operation Group (SOG), created in the state taking people from the local police and a larger number of them being fresh recruits. But the basic question that remains unanswered is, are the SOG jawans properly trained for this kind of jungle warfare or ambushes? The answer is a categorical "no" and imagine the puerile manner in which the SOG were used in 2008 at the Gasma hills, in Kandhmal district, during the operation against the Naxals which was later described as a 'suicidal ' show of adhocism.
Ironically, that step was taken a day after the Nayagarh massacre in which the Naxals had killed 14 reserve police jawans in the middle of the town and fled to Gasma hills loaded in about eight vehicles. While the DIG and IG operation were lounging in a government bunglow at Bhanjnagar, about 20 kms from Gasma hills, about 25 SOG jawans led by an Assistant Commandant of SOG, were sent to flush out the 100 odd Naxals holed up on top of a hill armed with LMGs and AK-47s while our jawans were in the open with nothing to take shield except a few one-and-a-half-feet stones on that vast field used for cultivation. There was neither any intelligence gathering before sending the force, nor any strategy. And the rest is history.
Before the launch of the Operation Green Hunt, a division within the police big bosses in Orissa was already manifested. "Such frictions always jeopardise the strategies we need to make before any such major offensive," confided one top official. It is still a mystery as to how the SOG jawans were allowed to travel in a vehicle through a route so volatile. Ironically, every such wrong move is usually given a silent burial after an inquiry order.
When the nation was shocked by the bloodiest act of killings by the ultras on April 6 in Dantewada, its closest neighbour Orissa's security apparatus appeared inured by the terror 60 kms away from Malkangiri. The Chief Minister's PR department informed that the CM would not speak on Chhattisgarh incident and the DGP of Orissa was too busy to comment on his state's preparedness after the Dantewada tragedy.
The police grapevine has been buzzing with tales of an aggressive offensive in the Malkangiri-Koraput woods while secrecy still remains to be the signature tune of the security apparatus .Of course, there is no grudging on that, as some strategies need to be guarded through silence. But action should follow words.
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