Hyderabad, Jan. 24: The murder of a Telugu Desam Party MLA has left Andhra Pradesh bleeding.
Penugonda legislator P. Ravindra was gunned down in public in Anantpur town this afternoon, triggering a violent backlash across the state.
A group of unknown assailants came on motorcycles, a jeep and a car and pumped more than seven bullets into Ravindra's head, chest, stomach and thighs as he was coming out of a meeting at the party headquarters.
Party worker Ishwaraiah and Ravindra's guard Mahboob Pasha were also shot at. While Ishwaraiah died on the spot, Pasha, the MLA's only armed escort, succumbed to injuries in hospital.
Anantpur superintendent of police Praveen Kumar said about five persons were injured.
The assailants caught the Desam leader unawares as he came out of the party office for a smoke before going home, the police official added. Most security guards were away for lunch.
As the killers rode away, shock gave way to anger. Violence spread across the state, leading to the death of two policemen.
According to police sources, over 100 government buses have been burnt down and Congress party offices attacked in Nizamabad and Mahboobnagar districts.
Curfew has been declared in Anantpur town, while Section 144 has been clamped on Warangal, Karimnagar, Mahboobnagar and Nizamuddin districts in northern Andhra, Anantpur, Kadapa and Chitoor districts in the west and the coastal districts of Krishna, Godavari and Nellore. All are Telengana strongholds.
The 42-year-old legislator, a former Maoist activist, had been part of both the N. Chandrababu Naidu and N.T. Rama Rao cabinets.
Desam activists pelted stones at policemen, including the superintendent of police. The party workers refused to allow the police to touch the body and took it away to Ravindra's native village Venkatapuram near Penugonda, about 50 km from Anantpur.
'Hundreds of party workers are guarding the village to keep the police at bay,' said a senior police officer.
Anantpur, which has witnessed a number of suicides by groundnut farmers, has also been the hub of political violence. Ravindra is the 22nd Desam leader to be murdered since the Congress government took over in May, 2004.
In September last year, four Desam workers were killed in a week.
The slain MLA had once survived a landmine attack in the heart of Hyderabad in 1995, which was allegedly planted by his rivals. Actor Mohan Babu, too, had a close shave along with the Desam leader, but almost half-a-dozen of Ravindra's associates and two reporters were killed.
The Desam blamed the ruling Congress for slashing the number of armed escorts for leaders facing death threats. The party had also informed the President and the National Human Rights Commission about the increasing political killings in the district.
'The Congress government withdrew armed escorts for all Telugu Desam leaders and made them sitting ducks for the political opponents who are in power,' alleged P. Keshav, a Desam leader from Anantpur.
Naidu, too, pointed fingers at the Reddy government. 'Over a dozen partymen have been butchered by political rivals' with total disregard for democratic rights,' the former chief minister said.
Naidu also called on governor Sushil Kumar Shinde and demanded President's Rule.
Reddy has called for a full-scale investigation into the killing.