Zee Media Bureau
Raipur: In an unprecedented attack, Naxals on Saturday targeted a convoy of Congress leaders in Chhattisgarh`s Jagdalpur district, killing the party`s senior leader Mahendra Karma, who was the guiding force behind Salwa Judum.
The attack by nearly 100 to 150 ultras claimed 17 lives and injured 20 others, including former union minister VC Shukla. Joint Secretary (Naxal management) in the Union Home Ministry MA Ganpathy told a news agency in New Delhi that most of the dead and injured were Congress leaders and workers, adding four to five of those killed in the attack were personal security officers of the Congress leaders.
The Maoists also kidnapped PCC chief Nand Kumar Patel and his son after attacking the Congress leaders at Darba Gati Valley in Jagdalpur district, police said. Patel`s son, Umesh, has, meanwhile, appealed to Naxals to free his father and brother unharmed. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has also urged attackers to release at the earliest all those who may have been abducted in Chhattisgarh.
The Home Ministry is rushing paramilitary forces to Chhattisgarh to help launch a combing operation for release of abducted leaders. Over 600 Central Reserve Police Force personnel have been mobilised to sanitise the attack site, according to reports.
A former Congress MLA Udya Mudaliyar was also shot dead by the Maoists who attacked the convoy at around 1730 hours when they were returning from a "Parivartan" rally.
Karma, a former home minister of the state who was a guiding force behind "Salwa Judum" (anti-Naxal operation by vigilante groups), was killed when a large number of Maoists opened fire on the rally. The burst of gunfire was preceded by a blast.
Shukla was reported to be at Darba Ghati police station and the nature of his injuries could not be ascertained immediately. The Maoist attack took place in a dense forest near National Highway 202 connection Chattisgarh with Bhadrachalam district of adjacent Andhra Pradesh.
The Congress had launched Parivartan Yatra on April 12 in the state where Assembly Elections are due by year-end.
Chhattisgarh Congress media cell president Shailesh Trivedi said it was matter of investigation whether Naxals were involved in the attack.
He alleged the state`s BJP government did not provide adequate security to Congress` Yatra despite opposition from Naxals.
"Naxals have opposed both BJP`s Vikas Yatra and Congress` Parivartan Yatra. However, the state government provided security only to BJP`s Yatra and not to the one organised by Congress. Had it been provided security, today`s incident would not have happened," he said. Police sources said another former Congress MLA Phulo Devi Netam from Bastar, a prominent tribal leader, was also wounded in the firing by Maoists, police sources said.
Minister of State for Home RPN Singh will be leaving for Jagdalpur on Sunday as Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde is now abroad.
(With PTI inputs)