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Maoist strike on ex-minister

(Top) The blast site in Dantewada district and the mangled vehicle of Mahendra Karma, who survived the attack

Nagpur, Nov. 8: A Congress leader who was at the forefront of the now-defunct anti-Maoist movement Salwa Judum was targeted by suspected rebels in a landmine blast today in Chhattisgarh’s restive Dantewada but he escaped unhurt.

Mahendra Karma’s motorcade came under attack close to his native village Faraspal, 8km from the district headquarters, when he was on his way to Barsur in the heart of Dantewada to attend a political programme, police said.

A former minister in the Ajit Jogi government and a former leader of Opposition, the tribal leader in his late fifties escaped unhurt but the driver and three others, including his bodyguard, suffered minor injuries, the police said. The front portion of his bullet-proof SUV was badly damaged in the explosion.

The Maoists first blew up a culvert, according to reports from the spot, before triggering the landmine at a spot surrounded by a dense forest patch.

The rebels opened fire on the motorcade after the explosion but the security personnel accompanying Karma, who has Z-plus cover, retaliated until reinforcements from Dantewada arrived and forced the rebels to beat a retreat.

Karma’s caravan had six vehicles but the guerrillas picked the one in which the Congress leader was travelling, the police said, suggesting the rebels had kept tabs on his movements.

“This is not the first time that they have targeted me,” Karma told reporters at the district hospital in Dantewada where he was rushed for a check-up.

Doctors said his blood pressure had shot up, as a result of which he was complaining of giddiness.

Karma, who spearheaded the Salwa Judum in south Bastar with tacit support of the ruling BJP and later the Raman Singh government, has long been on the Maoist hit list.

With his political influence within his own party and over the region reduced significantly over the past few years, Karma has been looking to recover lost ground in the Assembly elections scheduled to be held next year.

State home minister Nankiram Kanwar described the attack as “unfortunate”. “The Maoists are desperate and confused,” he said.