Maoists celebrated with a macabre dance of death after gunning down Mahendra Karma, according to two men who were with the Congress leader in his vehicle during Saturday’s ambush.
“We were terrified and shocked to see the Maoists singing and dancing after killing Karma,” Sattar Ali, a Congress leader from Konta in Sukma district, said on Sunday. “They also trampled his bullet-riddled body.”
Ali, who escaped with minor injuries, got out of the vehicle with Karma, 62, after security personnel accompanying them ran out of bullets while retaliating.
“Karma raised his arms, surrendered before the Maoists and appealed to them not to kill any Congress workers. They dragged him a few metres and indiscriminately pumped bullets into him,” Ali added.
The other survivor, Dr Shiv Narayan, said, “The Maoists did not harm me when I told them I was a doctor. After killing Karma, they rejoiced as if they had achieved something priceless.”
Narayan said nearly 20 vehicles in the convoy came under attack. “The naxals were checking almost every vehicle after the bloodbath.”
The attack took place around 4pm, but security forces could reach the spot only after 9pm.
Locals and some mediapersons helped the survivors reach Darbha police station on Saturday. From there they were taken to Maharani hospital in Jagdalpur by ambulance.
The toll in the deadly attack by suspected Maoists on a convoy of Congress leaders in Chhattisgarh rose to 27 after the bullet-riddled bodies of state party chief Nand Kumar Patel, his son Dinesh and eight others were found on Sunday.
The bodies were lying in the forested Jiram valley of Bastar region, about a km from the spot where the rebels had ambushed the convoy around 5pm on Saturday, the police said.
Patel and his son were missing after the rebels triggered a landmine explosion and opened indiscriminate fire near Darbha in Jagdalpur district, 340 km south of state capital Raipur.
Among others, the dead included state Congress leaders Mahendra Karma and Uday Mudliyar, who were gunned down even as they tried to surrender. Party veteran and former Union minister Vidya Charan Shukla, who was also part of the convoy returning from a pre-election rally, was critically wounded.
He was airlifted to New Delhi late at night and admitted to Gurgaon’s Medanta hospital.
Chhattisgarh DGP Ram Niwas said 32 people were injured in the attack. The police brought 17 bodies to the Maharani hospital in Jagdalpur during the early hours of Sunday. Heavy downpour since morning at Jagdalpur affected rescue operations.
Some missing Congress workers returned to Jagdalpur.
Most of the dead and injured are Congress leaders and workers and four to five of those killed in the attack are personal security officers of the Congress leaders.
Karma, who had been at the forefront of Salwa Judum, an anti-Naxal drive, had been on the rebels' hit list for some time. He had been a home minister in the state and last represented the Congress in the Chhattisgarh assembly as the opposition leader.
The suspected rebels attacked the convoy as it passed through the Darbha valley. The convoy was returning from a rally organised as part of the Congress party's Parivartan Yatra. Chhattisgarh goes to elections later this year.
The rebels triggered a powerful blast to blow up the second vehicle of the convoy and followed up with indiscriminate firing. In the hour-long gunfight that ensued, at least 27 people were killed and several others were wounded, said MA Ganpathy, joint secretary in the Union home ministry in New Delhi.
A PTI report said the attackers, numbering about 100-150, peppered Karma's body with bullets.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh described the ambush as a "dastardly attack". The ambush came after more than a year of relative lull in Maoist violence and pointed to possible attempts by the rebels to stage new offensives.
Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi flew to Chhattisgarh capital Raipur by a special aircraft late in the night to meet the injured.
The prime minister ordered the home ministry to dispatch more than 600 paramilitary personnel, including elite CoBRA anti-Maoist commandos, to sanitise and take control of the site of Saturday's attack.
"I have spoken to the chief minister of the state and urged him to provide all possible assistance to those who have been injured and to ensure the security and safety of those who have been abducted," said Singh, who also had a meeting with Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and party vice-president Rahul Gandhi.
Chhattisgarh is among the state worst-affected by Maoist violence and large parts of it are under the control of the extremists.
In 2012, the state accounted for half of all Maoist attacks on police personnel in the Red Corridor that includes Jharkhand, Odisha, Maharashtra and several parts of Bihar.