30 May 2013
Why Maoists carried out their deadly attack in Chhattisgarh and why such attacks will not stop
Darbha Valley in southern Chhattisgarh is flanked by the Kanger forest on its north and the Balimela forest on its east, bordering Odisha. This is an area that the Communist Party of India (Maoist) brought under its newly-formed Chhattisgarh-Orissa Border Committee last year. At about 4 pm on 25 May, a convoy of cars carrying senior Congress leaders and others was to pass through the area.
The Congress, in opposition in the state, was hoping for big gains in the Assembly polls later this year in the Bastar region. In the last elections, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had won 11 of the region’s 12 seats, leading the party to power in Raipur. The Congress had set itself the goal of making a similar sweep in the forthcoming polls with its Parivartan Yatra, which was announced with much fanfare on 11 April.
Travelling from a political rally in Sukma towards Jagdalpur on the single carriageway of National Highway 221, the convoy was about to cross a sharp curve with a milestone that read ‘Jagdalpur, 43’. The first car in the convoy had just crossed the milestone when the vehicle behind it, a Bolero, was thrown several metres in the air. It was a landmine blast. The impact was so powerful that several people in other vehicles were seriously injured. Within seconds, the survivors found themselves surrounded by Maoist guerillas, many of them carrying wireless sets, who were walking slowly and firing at the cars.
It was one of India’s most audacious ambushes ever. Shouting slogans and expletives, the guerillas closed in and asked for two senior Congress leaders to be identified: Mahendra Karma and Nand Kumar Patel.
There had been no single interview of a Maoist leader or press release issued by the Communist Party of India (Maoist) for seven years that did not mention Karma. Since 2006, Karma had led an anti-Maoist militia called the Salwa Judum that killed more innocent civilians than Maoists, apart from indulging in an orgy of loot, rape and plunder that resulted in the displacement of over 150,000 people. Patel had not been on the Maoist hit list at all. On 25 May, when Karma turned himself over to the ambushers along with Patel and others, Karma was first beaten up, and then shot many times in his head. Then Patel and his son were taken into the surrounding forest along with a few others. While the rest were let off—some were even administered pain killers for their injuries by Maoists—Patel and his son were shot in cold blood. Their bodies were recovered the next morning by security forces combing the area.
Two days later, the CPI (Maoist) issued a statement hailing its guerillas for killing Karma and ‘other reactionary Congress top leaders’. The Maoist spokesperson Gudsa Usendi said Patel was killed because of his ‘history of suppressing the people’. While Usendi regretted the killing of innocents, he offered no explanation for why Patel’s son was killed too.
CONSPIRACY THEORIES ABOUND, with unconfirmed reports of how the convoy’s route was changed at the last minute, or how some leaders were let off, even as a slew of politicians, retired security personnel and human rights activists wrestle it out on TV channels, offering their take on the situation. But the crater left on that road in Darbha valley and the remains of the dead—25 were killed in the ambush—strewn all over the place made it clear that it was a brutal, premeditated attack on the Indian Government. Of course, in the past few months, Maoists had been on the defensive, prompting the Union Minister of Home Affairs to claim in front of a Parliamentary Standing Committee that there has been an “absolute turnaround in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand”. But after this brazen attack in Chhattisgarh, such claims have fizzled out.