At least 26 personnel of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) were killed and at several were injured by Naxals in the Chintagufa area of the Sukma district of Chhattisgarh on Monday, April 24. The 74 Battalion of the CRPF had been battling the Naxals for at least an hour in the area.
The incident comes about one and a half months after the Maoists killed 12 CRPF personnel in the same district of the same state. CRPF personnel did not celebrate Holi after the attack, out of deference to their fallen compatriots.
Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh has reportedly cancelled all his engagements in Delhi and rushed to Chhattisgarh. He also called for an emergency meeting of heads of local authorities as well as relevant personnel to discuss and take action on this incident. Bastar IG Vivekanand Sinha and DIG Sunderraj are meanwhile expected to oversee some tactical planning in Sukma.
Around 100-150 jawans from the 74 Battalion of the CRPF was patrolling the area and supporting construction work — Maoists have a propensity to attack under-constriction sites — when they were fired upon by the Naxals. They fired back, not knowing how many of the Reds had come to attack them. They would later surmise that they were dealing with close to 300 Naxals.
The encounter went on for at least an hour, during which time the CRPF personnel also called for medical and fire-power back-up. Several of the injured were airlifted to hospitals in Raipur — the capital of Chhattisgarh — in the aftermath of the attack. While initially the death toll in the attack was 11, it rose to 12 as one of the wounded jawans succumbed to his injuries. The toll rose further to 24 and then 26 as more jawans succcumbed to their injuries.
Jawans injured in CRPF-Naxals encounter in Chhattisgarh's Sukma shifted to hospital in Raipur. pic.twitter.com/6x5zZKANVy— ANI (@ANI_news) April 24, 2017
CRPF jawan Sher Mohammed later told reporters in Raipur: "First the Naxals sent villagers to trace our location. Then almost 300 Naxals attacked us. We also fired and killed many of them." He added: "They were around 300 and we were around 150. We kept firing. I shot three-four Naxals in the chest."
Condolences pour in
The martyrdom of the CRPF jawans elicited sorrowful responses from all quarters. Union Information and Broadcasting Minister Venkaiah Naidu took to Twitter to say: "Deeply pained over the loss of our Bravehearts at Sukma. These sacrifices shall not be in vain. [sic]" He added: "Maoists indulging in mindless killing. My deep condolences to the bereaved families. RIP... [sic]"
Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh said on Twitter: "Extremely pained to know about the killing of CRPF personnel in Sukma. My tributes to the martyrs and condolences to their families. [sic]" He added: "Spoke to MoS Home Shri Hansraj Ahir about the attack in Sukma. Shri Ahir is going to Chhattisgarh to take stock of the situation."
Prime Minister Narendra Modi also took to Twitter to condemn the attack. He said in a series of tweets: "The attack on CRPF personnel in Chhattisgarh is cowardly and deplorable. We are monitoring the situation closely. We are proud of the valour of our CRPF personnel. The sacrifice of the martyrs will not go in vain. Condolences to their families. May those injured in today's attack in Chhattisgarh recover at the earliest."
Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi also condoled the killings. He said: "My sincere condolences to the families of the CRPF personnel martyred in the attack in Sukma. We salute the sacrifice and courage of our bravehearts. This thoughtless violence will never succeed in weakening our resolve to fight the forces of extremism."
Naxals becoming bolder?
The Naxal activity in the affected states like Chhattisgarh, Bihar, Odisha and Jharkhand have seen an uptick is nothing new. However, what is noteworthy is the nature and brashness of their actions.
Just last month around 30 of them had attacked a railway station in Odisha and left behind posters with warnings for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was to visit the state in a few weeks to attend the BJP National Executive in Bhubaneswar.
And in January this year, they had pushed off a 1,000-year-old Ganesha idol off the hill where it was situated. They had destroyed the base of the idol before throwing it down the hill. This incident, too, had taken place in Chhattisgarh.