‘Holocaust’ wipes out Cong top rung Leaders targeted, party sees plot

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  • Published 27.05.13

New Delhi, May 26: The Maoist attack that sought to wipe out the Congress’s frontline leadership in Chhattisgarh has shaken party leaders who refuse to believe the rebels had targeted only individuals like Mahendra Karma.

Karma, the state’s biggest tribal leader who had been on the hit list because of his association with the now-defunct anti-Maoist vigilante group Salwa Judum, was among those killed in yesterday’s ambush while returning from a rally.

Most leaders hinted at a larger conspiracy to target the party and criticised the BJP-led state government for not providing adequate security for the Congress convoy despite high threat perceptions. They said the incident had created a major crisis for the state unit ahead of Assembly elections later this year.

Except former chief minister Ajit Jogi, who is confined to a wheelchair, and Union minister of state for agriculture Charan Das Mahant, the Congress does not have any leaders in Chhattisgarh who enjoy state-wide recognition.

Mahant survived because he had returned to Delhi to attend an event. Jogi, who attended the rally, had flown back to Raipur in a helicopter.

The party’s efforts to build a new leadership through Nand Kumar Patel, who headed the state unit, have crashed too. The bodies of Patel and his son Dinesh were found today in a Bastar valley.

Former Union minister V.C. Shukla, once the most powerful politician in Chhattisgarh, is struggling for life.

Although the Maoists have targeted individual leaders in the past, this is the first time since Independence that an attack has wiped out nearly the entire top rung of a party in a state.

For the Congress, the question is which leader would campaign in Bastar now, especially after the state’s claims of adequate security had been exposed in this manner.

While Jogi said chief minister Raman Singh was incapable of running the state, Congress veteran Digvijaya Singh, who is not in India, blamed the “utter failure of (the) state government” in a tweet while pointing to lack of intelligence and combing operations.

Digvijaya had triggered a controversy in April 2010 when he had alleged a financial deal between the state government and the rebels to win elections.

Bastar is important for the BJP, which won 11 out of 12 seats in the region in the last state elections. The Congress had been trying to reclaim its base there but the attack may have delivered a crippling blow to its prospects.

The dominant view is the party’s backbone has been broken, though some leaders spoke of a sympathy wave and said Rahul Gandhi’s decision to rush to the state last night itself, followed by the visits of Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today, would restore cadre confidence.

The state has always seen close fights. While the BJP had polled 40.39 per cent of the votes in the 2008 Assembly elections, the Congress was just behind with 39.88 per cent, though the difference in the number of seats was high. In the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP had won 10 of the 11 seats in the state.

Sources said yesterday’s incident could also impact the Congress’s strategy of tackling the Maoists as the ambush has given the hawkish elements a powerful logic to push for stronger military action. Those who favoured socio-economic initiatives, like ministers Jairam Ramesh and Kishore Chandra Deo, expressed disappointment today.

“What happened yesterday was a holocaust. The Maoists didn’t like the development and welfare works in the area and proved once again that they have no faith in our political system, in democracy and constitutional values, and all the talk of tribal welfare for them is a sham, is an excuse, and an alibi for perpetrating the violent overthrow of a democratic system,” Ramesh said.

Tribal affairs minister Deo said: “The Maoists, who claim to be champions of the cause of tribals, have gone off track. Ultimately, the tribals will suffer by this kind of action by the Maoists. Development of their area will go back for two-three decades.”

President Pranab Mukherjee condemned the incident. “I condemn this incident in the strongest of terms and would like to reiterate that violence has no place whatsoever in our democratic polity,” Mukherjee said today. “The nation will neither be overawed nor intimidated by such action.”