In the wake of the deadly Maoist attack in Chhattisgarh's Bastar region that claimed the lives of 22 security personnel, Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel on Sunday said the morale of jawans is high and the operation against Naxals will continue. Talking to reporters this evening at Raipur airport after returning from Assam, Baghel said that Maoists are fighting their last battle now and they will be eliminated very soon. He added that the work of setting up camps of security forces in the Naxal stronghold areas in the state will be expedited.
"Morale of our security forces is high and they are giving a strong fight to Naxals in their den. In Saturday's encounter, Naxals have suffered a huge loss," Baghel, who had been campaigning in Assam for the ongoing Assembly election before returning to Chhattisgarh, said.
"The area where the skirmish took place is considered a bastion of Naxals and we had planned to set up a camp of security forces there and therefore, they (Maoists) were frustrated," he added.
He further said the incident was not just an encounter but can be termed as a 'yuddh' (war) that lasted for about four hours.
"From both sides, heavy exchange of fire took place while grenades and rocket launchers were also used. Our jawans got martyred, but they fought bravely and at the same time evacuated their injured and martyred colleagues from the spot," he said.
"We have also got information that Naxals had ferried their killed and injured cadres in four tractors from the encounter site. It can be assessed from the information that security forces have inflicted a heavy blow on them," he added.
When asked whether any lapses on the part of the security forces led to the incident, Baghel denied it saying, "It was not an attack on (police) camp...We had gone there to corner them. We have been continuously setting up camps and making inroads into the Maoist bastions from three sides Dantewada, Sukma and Bijapur (south Bastar)."
Naxals have been losing their ground and have been pushed into an area of 40X40 sq km. Out of frustration, they are committing such acts to show their presence, he added.
"We had planned to set up two camps in the area (along the border of Sukma and Bijapur districts) this month and we will do it. These strategically important camps will help the security forces in blocking Maoists' route to Maad area (a Maoist stronghold)," he said.
Our operation (against Naxals) will be continued and more camps of security forces will be set up. The sacrifice of jawans will not go in vain. Road connectivity will also be expanded in the region and amenities will be provided to the local public, he added.
Hailing the coordination between the central and state forces in the fight against Naxals, Baghel said, "Maoists have been fighting their last battle and very soon they will be eliminated."
After his arrival, the chief minister took stock of the incident from senior administrative and police officials, a government official said.
Later, Baghel went to Ramkrishna Care hospital, where injured jawans are admitted, and enquired about their condition, he added.
Twenty-two security personnel were killed and 31 others injured in the gunfight that took place between Jonaguda and Tekalguda villages along the border of Sukma and Bijapur districts on Saturday afternoon. One jawan is still missing following the gunfight.
Meanwhile, the opposition BJP hit out at the chief minister and said he should understand that Naxalism is a bigger challenge than the election in Assam.
"The entire state is mourning the martyrdom of the security personnel but the CM was busy in electioneering in Assam. What can be more unfortunate than this," senior BJP leader Dharamlal Kaushik said.
"Naxalism is a bigger challenge than the election. The irresponsible attitude of the state government has proved that it has no concern for people of the state," the Leader of Opposition said.
(With PTI inputs)