When Greyhounds were shot like sitting ducks

ALOK PRASANNA writes from Bangalore: Between bellyaching about the rising prices and the fickle furore over the allotment of land to the Amarnath shrine, not so speak of the moaning about the “horrors” of reality shows (hint to I&B Ministry: ban them!), a terrifying piece of news seems to have snuck beneath the radar of most media outlets (and churumuri, so it seems).

The shocking news that 36 men of the Greyhounds counter-insurgency force of Andhra Pradesh were mowed down in a single ambush on June 28, set out by the Maoists in Chintrakonda, Orissa, has not seen anything like the reaction it deserves.

Why is it so important?

Because the Greyhounds being ambushed is like, well, members of the Karnataka Lok Ayukta (easily the best and least corrupt in the country) getting caught taking bribes on camera, in a raid they were conducting, and getting blown to bits.

When Maoists are able to ambush and kill the best trained and most effective of the anti-Maoist forces in the country—a force that the Centre wants to recreate across the country—without so much as a fire-fight, it is a sign of things to come.

Make no mistake.

The Greyhounds are still the best (and possibly last) hope we have of fighting the Maoists on purely military terms, and winning. The Greyhounds were much feared by the Maoists as they had been responsible for many successful hits against the top leadership of the Maoists.

The key to their success was in getting the intelligence input and acting on it, silently and effectively.

It was in pursuit of one such false lead that the Greyhounds walked into the trap that was laid and sprung with devastating results.

All reports so far indicate that the Greyhounds themselves had made mistakes and had gotten sloppy. By getting trapped on a crowded boat in the middle of the river, they gave the idioms “sitting ducks” and “shooting fish in a barrel” a whole new grotesque meaning (or maybe helped create a new idiom, “Greyhounds on a boat”).

You would think that the response to this debacle will involve detailed soul searching and a promise of quick action to prevent repetition.

Nope.

The standard blame game began with the Orissa and Andhra Pradesh governments eager to notch up quick points initiating the finger-pointing gambit.

The AP Government naturally believes that the Greyhounds can do no wrong, and blames the Orissa Police for providing faulty intelligence. Naturally, the Orissa State Governments believes that its police can do no wrong and blame the Greyhounds for being careless.

Scoreline: AP State Government: 1. Orissa State Government: 1. Truth:0.

It is important also because the strategy of treating the Maoist uprising as a purely law and order problem is starting to unravel.

It was tough enough to put into practice in maladministered backwaters like Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa, Chattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh (that’s pretty much the entire Maoist belt if you get the picture), but at least in Andhra Pradesh, which has had to deal with the Maoists in one name or the other since the ’60s, Maoist insurgency was being slowly stamped out thanks to the efforts of the Greyhounds and the AP State Police.

In fact AP’s methods have been sought to be put to practice by other States, involving some “joint efforts” with other state police, but the ambush at Chintrakonda has shown up the enormous difficulties in replicating the “Andhra model”.

For the Maoists as well, beating the Greyhounds at their own game is going to be a huge fillip.

Sure, the odd jailbreak, police-station explosion, and kidnapping help keep up the morale of the cadre, and send State Government machinery running around in panic (headless chicken-like); but  taking out the crème de la crème of the enemy forces in a virtual turkey shoot, is like… getting Tendulkar in the first over of an Indian run-chase.

The note of triumphalism is unmistakable in this statement released by the Maoists (when they sprung a previous, less successful ambush against the Greyhounds).

“The efficiency, courage and fighting skill of the Greyhounds is a big myth. The setback of the [Maoist] movement in AP is not because of the Greyhounds but due to several other reasons. Though Greyhounds was created in 1989, our movement in AP developed in leaps and bounds until 1997. The so-called achievements of Greyhounds are not much related to actual battle with the Maoist guerrillas in field but due to methods of deception like poisoning the food and making the guerrillas unconscious before murdering them as in Pamedu in February.”

Translation (from Mao-speak): “We are not scared of the Greyhounds anymore… Bring it on!”

Bickering allies, failing strategy, and a confident foe.

Yup, that’s the recipe for disaster.