NEGURIA (West Midnapore): In the dead of the night, a herd of stumbling elephants in a forest can be mistaken for charging Maoist guerrillas. Or so it seems.
Tuesday's "fierce encounter" in Belpahari, in which policemen "bravely beat back Maoist attackers", has turned out to be only a bunch of panicky cops firing blindly at a herd of jumbos and a group of villagers trying to chase them off their fields.
"We fired 47 rounds. There were no casualties on our side, sir. But we did hear a scream from the other side. Somebody seemed to be have been hit," an officer from the Neguria police camp in West Midnapore’s Belpahari told his superior over telephone on Wednesday afternoon.
Little did the officer realise that villagers had already spilled the beans. Even forest officials confirmed the presence of elephants. But in Kolkata, IG (law and order) Raj Kanojia was still going by the Maoist attack story, telling reporters how rebels "fired 20 rounds and cops fired back".
West Midnapore additional SP Bharat Lal Meena was a little more candid. He admitted that villagers were chasing a herd of elephants but insisted that there were Maoists in the chase party. "The Maoists used the opportunity to launch an attack on the camp," he said.
But not a single empty shell was found in the area to substantiate Meena's claim. Since morning, the Neguria police camp was out of bounds for everyone, but officers were eager to speak about their "victory".
"Guerrillas attacked the camp from two sides. They were shouting slogans. We beat them back," said one of them. The villagers told the other side of the story: how they were fired upon and had to scamper for cover.
One of them pointed to a part of the corn field that had been flattened by the herd and said, "Every time an elephant is spotted, a hullah party is formed. We arm ourselves with sticks, spears and mashals (torches) and create a din."