Hyderabad, May 29: Thousands of Bastar tribals have fled to neighbouring Andhra Pradesh since Sunday to escape the security forces’ combing of areas around the Sukma-Jagdalpur road following Saturday’s ambush.
Although exact figures are not available yet, Andhra district officials say some 10,000 to 15,000 people — mostly tribals but including some middle-class traders — have entered the Khammam and Warangal districts through Bhadrachalam, Chintoor and Venkatapuram.
“This is the worst time for such a development. Hundreds of tribal weddings have had to be cancelled because of the road blocks, police combing and the Maoist attack,” said Harikant Sankla, a trader from Konta town who is sheltering in Chintoor.
Teams of the Central Reserve Police Force’s elite Cobra commandos, Andhra police’s crack Greyhound wing and Chhattisgarh police have been combing areas in Sukma, Darbha valley and Dantewada.
No allegations of atrocities have surfaced yet but sources say the forces are entering almost every village to ask families where their male members were on Saturday evening.
Hordes of frightened tribals have fled their homes and are camping in the open around border villages in Andhra Pradesh, which have been receiving some rainfall over the past couple of days.
Officers at the anti-Maoist intelligence wing in Hyderabad have suggested one possible solution to the mystery of why the rebels did not assassinate former Union minister V.C. Shukla, whom a Maoist statement has described as a prime target.
Quoting Shukla’s driver, who happens to be a Telugu speaker, they gave this account: Shukla was hit three times when the guerrillas approached the convoy and sprayed bullets at all the vehicles after the police guards ran out of ammunition.
When the Maoists began inspecting each vehicle asking for targets such as Mahendra Karma and Nand Kumar Patel, Shukla’s driver heard a group of guerrillas speaking Telugu and stepped out.
He told them in Telugu that the occupants of his vehicle were not Congress members but a businessman from Andhra Pradesh and his family who were overtaking the convoy and got caught in the ambush.
“Only my sait (employer) and his family are inside; please let us off,” he pleaded. The guerrillas took away the driver’s mobile phone and cash and allowed him to leave after warning him never again to ply on the road.
If the account is true, the officials said, it still remains unexplained why the Maoists accepted the driver’s word so readily. Reports have said, however, that the guerrillas were non-locals unfamiliar with the targets’ faces.
After initial claims that the convoy had changed its route at the last-minute — which the Congress has denied and dismissed as an attempt by the Chhattisgarh administration to deflect blame — a new buzz has started.
Some local media reports have quoted sources as saying that a Congress activist from Dantewada had suggested a route diversion that could have averted the massacre but the idea was rejected.
Apparently, after the Sukma rally, this activist had requested that the convoy visit his village in Gadiras and make a detour to Jagdalpur through Dantewada. But the leaders decided to stick to the scheduled route through Tongpal, which is much shorter.
Congress sources, however, have denied this claim too and described it as a plant by the administration.
Sources said the National Investigation Agency team, probing any possible security lapses, had found some powerful unexploded bombs at the massacre site.