While the frisking of former President Abdul Kalam [ Images ] by the staff of Continental Airlines has triggered a controversy, a similar incident, which went unnoticed, is not merely a breach of protocol but the sign of a greater danger.
On July 16, a senior National Mineral [ Get Quote ] Development Corporation official was traveling towards Chhattisgarh's Bailadila hills, where a major iron ore excavation project is going on.
Just 20 kms from Jagdalpur, which is the district headquarters of the Bastar plateau, his vehicle was stopped in the middle of the night by some Maoist cadres. He was asked to step out of the car, and after he was thoroughly frisked and his vehicle checked, he was allowed to go.
The last three months have seen the Maoists tightening their grip on Chhattisgarh and the amount of control that they exercise over National Highway 43 is disturbing, intelligence officials told rediff.com.
"The situation has worsened ever since the elections. They [Maoists] have gone from strength to strength. While the massacre of more than 30 people including a superintendent of police made headlines, the truth is that they have become even stronger in the Bastar region," said a senior state intelligence officer.
Other intelligence sources agreed that the impunity with which the rebels have started raiding and imposing themselves on NH 43 is a disturbing sign of their increasing clout in the region.
"The realisation that they can do whatever they want on a national highway has hit the forces hard. They are a demoralised lot. The situation is all the more unfortunate because we had dealt them severe blows till early this year," the officer said.
Thus, even while the Centre is talking big about ending the Maoist menace, they have taken a decisive grip on the state considered to be their de facto headquarter.
"The CRPF was sent to Lalgarh just because it is close to a city like Kolkata [ Images ]. The situation here in Chhattisgarh is worse and nothing has been done," the intelligence officer added.
The frisking of a senior central government employee was the second incident this month when Maoists had stamped their authority on National Highway 43, which connects Chhattisgarh to Andhra Pradesh.
Earlier in July, only one of the two vans carrying detonators from Raipur to the Bailadila hills, reached its destination.
"How did they know that there was a consignment going on that date? Either they had prior information or they chanced upon it. Both possibilities are alarming. If they had prior information, then it means that they have sources in the official machinery. And if they chanced upon the vans, then it means that they have the capability to raid a national highway at will," P V Ramana, a research fellow at the Delhi-based Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, said.
Adding to the police's woes, the recent attack in Rajnandgaon has left the forces demoralised. "For outsiders and observers, the death of a SP might not mean much. But for the policemen in the district, he is everything. And when they see an SP so easily ambushed, their morale falls," said P C Hota, Raipur based journalist.
Thus Chhattisgarh, which had made crucial gains against the Maoists till before the elections, now finds itself with a two-pronged problem: the renewed ascendancy of the Maoists and a demoralised police force.