New Delhi/Raipur: A shocked India Sunday condemned the attack on Congress leaders in Chhattisgarh that left nearly 30 people dead, including the party’s state chief and the ‘Salwa Judum’ founder, and asserted that such attacks will not intimidate the country or affect its resolve to fight extremism.
The central home ministry has sought a detailed report from the Chhattisgarh government on the Saturday evening incident in which a large number of Maoists attacked a Congress convoy, official sources said Sunday. The state is scheduled to have assembly elections by the year-end.
This was the biggest attack in the sprawling central Indian state since April 6, 2010, when about 75 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and a state police personnel were killed in Mukrana forests of Dantewada district.
Combing operations were launched in the Darbha Ghati area, 35 km from Sukma town, in the restive Bastar region, where the attack took place.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who flew into Raipur with Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, reviewed the situation with Chief Minister Raman Singh and offered all help to the state in tackling the left-wing ultras.
Expressing shock at the attack, President Pranab Mukherjee said the country would not be “intimidated” by such acts.
“I am deeply dismayed and shocked at the wanton violence unleashed by Maoists. I condemn this incident in the strongest of terms and would like to reiterate that violence has no place whatsoever in our democratic polity,” he said.
“The nation will neither be overawed nor intimidated by such action,” he added.
Vice President Hamid Ansari said extremism and violence have to be fought and eliminated.
In Raipur, the prime minister and Congress chief met the injured and families of the dead.
“We have to be more determined in fighting Naxal (Maoist) extremism. These lives should not go in vain,” said Manmohan Singh. “This incident should be treated as an inspiration in our fight against forces of extremism and violence.”
“This is a cowardly act. It is not an attack on Congress or its leaders but an attack on democratic values,” Gandhi told party workers.
Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi, who had reached Chhattisgarh earlier, termed the incident “an attack on the idea of our country”.
Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi paid tributes to state unit chief Nand Kumar Patel and his son Dinesh Patel, who died in the attack. According to a survivor, the two were taken away by the Maoists into the forest and shot dead.
Recounting the Maoists’ cruelty, a survivor said the rebels danced when they found that anti-Maoist Salwa Judum movement’s founder Mahendra Karma was in the convoy before shooting him dead. As he fell, a rebel bayonetted him in the head.
The insurgents, it was learnt, made all the gunmen of the leaders lie on the ground and shot them in their legs one by one and asked them to run away. They also took away their weapons.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is in power in the state since 2003, and the Left also condemned the attack.
BJP veteran L.K. Advani termed the attack “one of the most audacious” and called upon everyone to “come together” to combat the Maoist challenge.
The BJP also said it had decided to postpone its week-long anti UPA protest starting Monday.
Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) leader Brinda Karat said the attack was “barbaric” and a shocking example of politics of violence and terror by the Maoists.
Activist Swami Agnivesh said Raman Singh and Governor Shekhar Dutt should be removed for their failure to provide security to people.
Raman Singh retorted by saying an elaborate strategy would be put in place to give a fitting response to Maoist insurgents.
Questioning the lack of security which they claim led to the attack on the Congress convoy in Chhattisgarh, security experts Sunday said targeting political leaders was a show of strength for the Maoists and feared that more attacks will follow.
Andhra Pradesh’s Director General of Police V. Dinesh Reddy meanwhile said the police force was on alert in Andhra Odisha Border (AOB) area.
He told reporters in Nizamabad Sunday that police had no information about Maoists belonging to the state participating in the attack.
The condition of 84-year-old Congress leader V.C. Shukla, who received multiple bullet injuries in the attack, continued to be “critical” in a Gurgaon hospital where he was flown-in by an air ambulance.
The prime minister, Sonia Gandhi and Advani visited Shukla, a former union minister.