The chief of the army's central command surveyed Abhujmaadh forests from the air and then landed in Raipur to allay anxieties over a potential conflict escalation in the Maoist controlled forest in Chhattisgarh's Narayanpur district where the army plans to train its troops.
"We will exercise maximum restraint. This is our country, they are our people," said Lieutenant General Vijay Ahluwalia, emphasising that the army would be deployed solely for the purpose of training.
He said the training will be restricted to manoeuvres with no firing drills and that it would be gradually scaled up to the brigade level. A brigade had 3000 troopers.
"The time frame will be dictated by the consultations with the state government," he said, adding that Chhattisgarh government had offered 500 square kilometres to the army for jungle warfare training in 2007. "We are considering 2-3 locations. The area could be 20 x 25 kms or larger".
Later, he added that the process was being delayed since there were no revenue records for the land on offer. This indicates that the training range will be inside Abhujmaadh, and not on its edges, as was indicated earlier.
Abhujmaadh is an unsurveyed forest spread over 4000 square kilometres, with not a single police post, and barely any civil administration. It is believed to be controlled by Maoists, who have declared it a 'liberated area'.
The army's move to train its troops inside the Maoist stronghold has triggered speculation over whether this will eventually result in army deployment against the insurgents.
The leadership of CPI Maoist certaintly believes so. In a statement dated January 22, Maoist spokesperson Gudsa Usendi asked people to oppose the army's entry, warning of impending "civil war" in the area.
The army, too, has expressed concerns over the possibility of its troops coming under Maoist attack. "I do not think the Maoists will attack the army, but in case the contingency arises, we have asked the government what will be the legal safeguards available to us," said Lt Gen Ahluwalia.
On Monday, in a television interview, the army chief V K Singh stated even more clearly, "Lets say while training, they come into an ambush, my troops are going to fire back, that's what they are taught. If they fire back and drop people (dead), and some people are able to take their (dead Maoists) weapons away, which is what often happens, then big clamour takes place that army has killed innocents.."
Currently, the army operates in Kashmir and the North East under the cover of Armed Forces Special Protection Act (AFSPA). The controversial act, applicable after an area has been notified as 'disturbed area', gives the army immunity from criminal proceedings, that human rights activists allege has amounted to giving the army the impunity to kill.
The army chief said he did not want AFSPA for Maoist affected areas, yet he repeated in the TV interview, " If something happens, somebody should not drag my troops to the court saying they have committed murder.."