Operation Lalgarh begins, ‘human walls’ stormed

Maledah300

The recovery of four more bodies — including that of a CPI(M) local committee secretary who had been executed by a Maoist squad early on Wednesday — buried inside a forest finally pushed West Bengal's dithering government to order state and central security forces to Lalgarh on Thursday afternoon.

At 4 pm, 2,000 men from the CRPF, Rapid Action Force, West Bengal Armed Police and India Reserve Battalion began to march towards Lalgarh from the Salboni side, to smash the four-day Maoist siege of the area.

In Kolkata, home secretary Ardhendu Sen said central forces would move into Lalgarh from other directions as well, and would be provided with air cover, if necessary, tomorrow.

Resistance from the Maoists and local people was less virulent than expected on Thursday. As the forces moved in, the first human barricades scattered easily, and a few sporadic retaliatory attacks followed.

The stiffest resistance came at Piarkhuli, about four km from Pirakata and 14 km from Lalgarh — here, the forces were fired upon from multiple directions. In return, the security forces lobbed several tear gas shells, but did not retaliate with bullets. The extreme caution they were exercising — in stark contrast to Nandigram where police firing resulted in multiple deaths — was evident.

A second marked difference was that the state government did not try today to sideline the central forces — in Lalgarh, unlike in Nandigram, central and Bengal forces operated in tandem as a cohesive force.

After taking control of Piarkhuli, the CRPF carried out a combing operation. The march to Lalgarh was stopped here for the day, at around 6.30 pm.

The first "human wall", comprising hundreds of tribals armed with batons, axes, spears, bows and arrows, challenged the security forces at Maledah village, about two km from the Pirakata police outpost where the forces had set up an operational base.

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