11th-hour change in route led to Maoist ambush?

Route changed from relatively safer track to one that traversed directly through Bastar’s ‘red territory’ at suggestion of local Congress leader post-rally, say police

dinesh-akula

Dinesh Akula | May 27, 2013


The ambush site: the Congress convoy took the Dharbha route, via Tongpal, to reach Jagdalpur from Sukma, which is deep in the Maoist-controlled territory.
The ambush site: the Congress convoy took the Dharbha route, via Tongpal, to reach Jagdalpur from Sukma, which is deep in the Maoist-controlled territory.

Amid indication that the route was changed at the last minute, which ostensibly brought the Congress leaders’ convoy directly into the path of insurgents in Maoist-controlled territory, the Chhattisgarh police have launched a massive manhunt to zero in on the person who advised the change.

Meanwhile, a war of words has ensured between the police of Chhattisgarh and their counterparts in neighbouring Andhra Pradesh after the former claimed that Saturday’s ambush, the biggest ever Maoist attack in Chhattisgarh, was the handiwork of insurgents who arrived from Andhra Pradesh.

Also read: Maoist ambush: uneasy questions for centre & state

Chhattisgarh is our own heart of darkness

Twenty-four people, including senior Congress leaders and party workers besides local villagers, were killed in Saturday’s ambush. Several others were injured, among them former union minister Vidya Charan Shukla, still stated to be critical in Gurgaon’s Medanta hospital.

According to police sources, it has now emerged that the Congress leaders planned to take the Gadiras route to reach Jagdalpur from Sukma. Instead, they took the Dharbha route, via Tongpal, which proved fatal.

Besides Shukla, Mahendra Karma, founder of the anti-Maoist militia Salwa Judum and former state home minister Nand Kumar Patel had reportedly cleared the Gadiras route after the rally was over. Police sources, however, said that a local-level party leader had changed the plan at the last minute.

The police are now trying to track this person, though even other Congress leaders and activists who were part of the rally are also not able to recollect his/her identity.

The question is, why did the senior leaders agree to move on the changed route despite knowledge that it led through heavily Maoist-infested areas?

Some of the injured Congressmen recovering in Raipur hospital told this correspondent that usually party flags and welcome teams could be seen in villages whenever they travel in the tribal belts or in other interior areas. But that jamboree by the locals was conspicuous by its absent on the specific route they took on Saturday. “It should have raised doubts immediately but the leaders did not mind since they were too tired from the rally and wanted to reach Jagdalpur at the earliest,” one Congressman said.

Blame game starts

Meanwhile, triggering a blame-game, the Chhattisgarh police now claim that the mastermind of the ambush allegedly came from Andhra Pradesh, though their counterparts in AP are bluntly denying involvement of Maoists from their state in the incident.

Sources said Chhattisgarh police have named Vinod, alias Pandu, who reportedly trains Maoists in Malajkhand region bordering Chhattisgarh, as one of the architects of Saturday’s attack. According to sources, Vinod, who carries a reward of Rs 5 lakh on him, he trained some 90 women insurgents specifically for Saturday’s attack.

The mastermind of the ambush is said to be Surendra, a senior Maoist leader.

Andhra Pradesh DGP Dinesh Reddy meanwhile said they have no information about Maoists from the state participating in the attack. Reddy also said AP forces have been put on alert in Andhra Odisha Border (AOB) area.

Police sources on both sides claimed there was no specific intelligence input about the ambush. The security establishment also didn't stick to standard precautions taken when political leaders venture out in the ‘red territory’ – and Dabhra is right in the middle of Chhattisgarh's red country.

It is not clear whether the security establishment believed in the official government line about its own success against the Maoists, or was just far too optimistic. While 2012 did indeed witness the lowest Maoist violence in the past decade — in Chhattisgarh, 63 civilians were killed last year against 124 in 2011 – experts had all along warned that the Maoists had been itching to get back at the state ever since thousands of central and state security forces forayed into Abujmaad jungles in Chhattisgarh to neutralise red terror.

The Deceased

12 Congress leadersd/activists, 8 police and CRPF jawans and 4 local villagers died in Saturday’s ambush.

  • Nand Kumar Patel: Pradesh Congress committee chief (from Raigarh)
  • Mahendra Karma: former MLA and leader of opposition (Dante)
  • Dinesh Patel: Nand Kumar's son (Raigarh)
  • Uday Mudaliar: ex-MLA (Rajnandgaon)
  • Allah Noor: Congress worker (Rajnandgaon)
  • Yogendra Sharma: Congress worker (Dharsiwa)
  • Rajesh Chandrakar: driver of Yogendra Sharma (Baloda Bazar)
  • Manoj Joshi: driver (Dharbha)
  • Ganpat Nag: Congress worker (Darbha)
  • Abhisekh Golchha: Congress worker (Nagari)
  • Gopichand Madhvani: Congress worker (Jagdalpur)
  • Sadasingh Nag: Congress worker (Darbha)
  • Bhagirathi: Congress worker (Darbha)
  • Rajkumar: helper (Darbha)
  • Chandarram: labourer
  • Prahlad: labourer
  • Emmaneul Karkatta: assistant sub-inspector (ASI)
  • Prafful Shukla: ASI
  • Ashok Kumar: head constable
  • Chandrahas Dhruv: constable
  • Patrika Xalxo: head constable
  • Rahul Pratap Singh: constable
  • Tarun Deshmukh: constable
  •  
  • Still missing: Motu (Darbha) and Doma (Machkot resident)

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