Rahul Gandhi at a prayer meeting for the Bastar victims in New Delhi on Monday. (PTI)
Jagdalpur (Chhattisgarh), May 27: The Congress convoy ambushed on Saturday had “no security cover unlike the previous two days”, survivors said on a day the National Investigation Agency began probing possible security lapses by the central forces or the state’s BJP government.
“There was no road-opening party ahead of us; no anti-landmine vehicle leading the convoy; no police team tailing it. There were no police even at the Parivartan Yatra rally in Sukma,” Ajay Singh, aide of slain Congress leader Mahendra Karma, said in Faraspal village where the Salwa Judum founder was cremated today.
Karma and state party chief Nand Kumar Patel were among 27 Congress leaders, workers and personal security officers (PSOs) who died as the convoy, travelling from Sukma towards Jagdalpur, was waylaid.
“We had protection in Bijapur on day one (May 23) of the Yatra; we had cover on day two (May 24) in Jagdalpur. It is strange that we had none on day three,” Singh said. Two other survivors corroborated him.
It appears an intelligence input about an increased presence of Maoists in Geeram valley, the site of the massacre, was ignored. Many senior Congress leaders have suggested a conspiracy behind the attack that has wiped out virtually the entire top rung of the party’s state leadership.
Jagdalpur superintendent of police Mayank Shrivastav, though, claimed a road-opening party had preceded the convoy on its way to Sukma earlier in the day, and later again as the motorcade headed towards Jagdalpur.
Shrivastav suggested the patrol passed the attack site 45 minutes before the convoy and the “Maoists laid the ambush in a very short time”. He admitted there was no anti-landmine vehicle or police escort apart from the 35 police PSOs of the party leaders.
One other question being asked in Congress circles is: why did the Maoists kill state unit chief Patel and his son Dinesh who, unlike Karma, had no personal enmity with the rebels? Especially when they let off local MLA Kawasi Lakhma, who was in the same car?
“I’m sure the National Investigation Agency team (which arrived in Chhattisgarh today) will probe this angle. It smacks of a political conspiracy,” state Congress media chief Shailesh Trivedi said.
Patel would have been a front-runner for the chief minister’s post if the Congress had won the upcoming state polls. Dinesh, married two years ago, looked set to play a major role in the Youth Congress.
Father and son had worked very hard to make the Yatra a success, Singh said.
“We are confused why the Maoists killed Patel and his son. Dinesh was not even a full-time politician,” Singh said. “He was extremely polite and had a spotless character.”
Singh and state Congress leaders including the injured Lakhma chorused their denial of a buzz, started apparently by the administration, about a last-minute change to the convoy’s route.
“We went there and came back according to a pre-decided plan,” Singh said. “To my knowledge, the route was not changed,” said Lakhma.
There was a change to the Yatra’s schedule, though, but it was conveyed to the police, Trivedi said.
The rallies in Sukma and Jagdalpur were slated for May 24 and 25, respectively, but the dates were switched because former chief minister Ajit Jogi could come to Sukma only on May 25.
“There was no change to the Yatra’s route on May 25; the state government is propagating this rumour to cover its own lapses,” Trivedi said.
“Security lapses could have taken place,” junior Union home minister R.P.N. Singh said in Delhi while announcing the NIA probe. “(In case of) any lapse on the part of central forces or the state government, we have to take action.”