For hours before that, a truckload of Naxals, men and women, hadsurrounded the camp, located in a busy market. By 4 pm, they wereready.
It was just another Monday evening for the jawans. Some of them werecooking dinner, others were enjoying a cup of tea. Outside, the Naxalswere approaching - some on motorcycles, others in a car, most of thempacked into a truck.
The jawans suddenly heard a loud explosion. From across the low wallsof the camp, petrol bombs and grenades landed with fury. The policemeninside stood little chance.
Twenty four policemen died, some of them burnt inside their tents.Another seven were injured. That left a handful to combat the nearlyhundred Naxals, who burst in with sophisticated firearms and separatedthe camp with bullets.
West Bengal's senior-most cop, Bhupinder Singh, who visited thedisaster zone on Tuesday, admitted that the camp's location made itinherently vulnerable. The shops around made it impossible to placesecurity outside the camp. And when the attack began, the policemenwere worried about firing back, and hurting shoppers in the crossfire.
The Naxals raided the armory in the camp. Forty guns have been reported missing.
A jawan who survived says the camp was caught so completely off-guardthat there was little chance of putting up a real fight. "Everyonepanicked...I could not take it...I climbed a wall and escaped," he saidto NDTV, visibly shaken hours after the assault. (Watch: Bengal attack: Jawan recounts the horror)
In Delhi, Home Minister P Chidambaram admitted that the attack showed"indications of failure in some aspects." He added that "only athorough review will reveal how the police camp with adequate strengthwas overrun, when there was day light, by the CPI (Maoist)." (Read: Chidambaram's statement on Midnapore attack)
But sources tell NDTV that privately, a furious Chidambaram hasminced no words with the Bengal state government. The ministerreportedly said the jawans were acting as if they were on a picnic;that they had let their guard down by allowing locals to use theircamp's toilet. The jawans at the camp were also not in regular touchwith their headquarters. The message from the union to the stategovernment: figure out how to protect these camps better.
Shilda, where the camp was located, is 75 kilometres from Midnaporetown. Police reinforcements from Binpur and Belpahari, 8-10 kilometresaway, reached the spot three hours after the attack. The securityforces had to trek through forests to avoid landmines planted by theNaxals.
The state police says that local intelligence networks in Naxal areasare virtually non-existent. Despite an afternoon spent by Naxalsreadying for the attack, just feet away, the jawans got no tip-off.
Maoist leader Kishenji has claimed responsibility for the attack.
"We have attacked the camp and this is our answer to Chidambaram's'Operation Green Hunt' and unless the Centre stops this inhumanmilitary operation we are going to answer this way only," Kishenji saidfrom an undisclosed location.
In his statement on Tuesday, Chidambaram hit out at intellectualsympathisers of Maoists. "I would like to hear the voices ofcondemnation of those who have, erroneously, extended intellectual andmaterial support to the CPI (Maoist)."
According to sources, this is why the Midnapore incident happened:
- Key security procedures were not followed
- Looked like the jawans were on a picnic, there were no security checks at the camp
- Locals had easy access, used camp toilets regularly
- There wasn't constant communication between jawans, HQ
- Jawans had arms, could have protected camp better