Naxalites of the Communist Party of India Maoist [CPI (Maoist)], or Maoists in short, set-off a landmine blast on January 21, 2012, in Garwah district, Jharkhand, killing 13 personnel of the Jharkhand police and injuring two more; the party was travelling in a Mine Proof Vehicle (MPV). According to media reports, the explosion was so powerful that the MPV was hurled high into the air and the sound of the blast was heard in many neighbouring villages. The shocked policemen were reportedly shot in the head and two of the 13 killed were hurled into the MPV which was set afire by the rebels. This kind of savagery is not new to the Maoists. In the past, they had tortured and killed policemen whom they had captured. For example, in July 2008, at least one captured Greyhounds constable was tortured and killed in an ambush at Balimela, Odisha.
In fact, the rebels have learnt quite a few lessons from their experience in targeting MPVs. This seems to have emboldened them, once again, to attack an MPV in the Garwah incident and loot 11 INSAS rifles, two AKs, and a revolver. In fact, in their maiden attack on an MPV resulting in fatalities, on September 3, 2005, in Dantewada district, Chhattisgarh, 23 policemen and a civilian were killed. This targeting of an MPV followed a landmine blast carried out a few days earlier in which another MPV was paralysed. While this earlier incident involved the use of eight kg of TNT equivalent of explosive material, in the September 3 incident, the Maoists multiplied the quantity of explosive material by ten times! Thus, the first lesson was learnt! The lesson was: ‘an MPV has the capability to withstand only a certain limited quantity of TNT equivalent of explosive material’. The website of the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB), in fact, gives in splendid detail all the design features, technical data, protection capability and the stabilised remote-controlled weapon station that is mounted on the MPV! It notes that protection is limited to “14 kg TNT under tyres, 10 kg TNT under hull and 10 kg IED on side walls”. On the other hand, an MPV without RCSS feature can withstand a mine blast of “14 kg TNT under wheels and 10 kg under hull”.
The Maoists did not have to experiment to know how to defeat an MPV. All the details are available for the asking! And the Maoist military machine, the People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army (PLGA), is headed by Nambala Kesava Rao alias Basavaraju, an MTech from the National Institute of Technology, Warangal, which was earlier known as Regional Engineering College (REC), and had in the past contributed several cadres to the rebel underground, including the son of Kondapalli Seetharamaiah, the founder of the Maoists’ earlier avatar, the Communist Party of India––Marxist-Leninist (People’s War), popularly known as the PWG.
Besides, the guerrillas have made a systematic and thorough study of the MPV that is deployed in anti-Maoist operations. According to a senior intelligence officer from Andhra Pradesh, the Maoists have also analysed the functioning and defects of the various armoured vehicles/tanks (and their varying makes) that were deployed in different conflict theatres across the world. These include Casspir, M706, Alvis Saracen, Ratel 20, Humvee, Abraham and Bradley and have concluded that “no such vehicle is foolproof from an attack”. The rebels had noted in an internal document in 2005, which this author had the opportunity to read, that “… There is no such thing as a mine proof vehicle which had been manufactured anywhere in the world till now. They can only say how much of RDX or how many kilos of TNT blast it can withstand. What does it mean? Doesn’t it mean that it can be destroyed if explosive is used in larger quantity?”
The Maoists averred that the shell of the vehicle may accord protection and those travelling in it may not get killed, but the vehicle can certainly be damaged and rendered useless –– because the tyres, wheels, gear box and axle can be damaged. And, even for minor repairs it has to be sent back to the manufacturer –– in this case, the ordnance factory in Medak. Thus, they can effectively enforce the withdrawal of an MPV from deployment. Each MPV costs an estimated Rs. 5,000,000 and it is an expensive proposition to have large stocks of reserves to immediately replace the damaged ones.
It appears that the Maoists have also understood various other factors that are psychological and operational in nature. For instance, the impact of the blast would render the vehicle’s passengers shocked and dazed, at least momentarily. And as the passengers came out of the MPV, they could be targeted and killed. In case the doors get jammed and the security personnel are stuck inside the vehicle it would be all the more easier for the rebels to kill them by hurling a cocktail or napalm bomb.
These lessons appear to have come handy for the Maoists in the Garwah attack. As a result, sadly, 13 lives have been lost and their families orphaned in the course of the Maoists’ quest to capture/seize political/state power through armed struggle.