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The death toll in Saturday’s audacious Maoist strike on a Congress convoy in Chhattisgarh’s Bastar division rose to 27 after bullet-riddled bodies of state party chief, his son and eight others were found on Sunday morning as reports emerged that the state was warned of a possible strike by the rebels.
The bodies of Nand Kumar Patel, his son Dinesh and eight others, most of them securitymen, were recovered from Jiram Ghat in Sukma district of Bastar division, police said.
Former union minister VC Shukla, among the 32 injured, was airlifted to Medanta Hospital in Gurgaon earlier in the day. The 84-year-old, who suffered bullet injuries, was critical but stable.
“Maoist violence is a serious challenge to Indian democracy,” Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said while visiting the injured in the state capital Raipur.
“I have spoken to Raman Singh (Chhattisgarh CM) and he has agreed for a probe by the NIA,” home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde told PTI late on Sunday from New York.
"Maoist violence is a serious challenge to Indian democracy. The Centre and Maoist-affected states are working together on the issue," Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said while visiting the injured in Raipur. Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, who was with him, said the strike was an attack on democratic values.
The massacre, which has wiped out a section of the state Congress leadership, looks to have been brought on by security lapses at multiple levels. Intelligence alerts seem to have been ignored and the standard operating procedures (SOPs) prescribed for 'Red Zone' flouted.
It was in April that the state was alerted about the presence of top Naxal leader Katakam Sudershan alias Anand, who led the strike, sources said. The police were told that Sudershan along with 100 CPI (Maoist) cadres was moving in Bijapur district.
Central agencies had warned in early April that around 250 armed Maoists were carrying out a month-long counter-tactical offensive in the Bastar area, sources said. The alert was marked to state's director general of police Ram Niwas and inspector generals of the CRPF and BSF.
The killings took place at a time when 5,000 police personnel were camping in Sukma for anti-Naxal operations. Two specific intelligence inputs about the presence of 60 Maoists in a Darbha village was sent on March 13. Darbha is in Sukma district.
While the DGP is reportedly resisting efforts to fix accountable, reports reaching home ministry indicate that no road opening parties were provided to the Congress leaders despite Maoist threat to Mahendra Karma, the founder of the anti-Maoist force Salwa Judum, and Patel.
The Congress leaders and workers were not briefed about the SOPs, reports said. "Do you expect a politician to remain well-versed with the SOPs. Who is to be blamed if not the district administration and the security forces if the Naxals easily found their target," an expert on jungle warfare said on condition of anonymity. The convoy should have avoided the same route while returning and should have moved in small groups.
Karma and ex-MLA Uday Mudliyar were among those killed on the spot when around 600 armed Naxals ambushed the convoy at around 3.35 pm on Saturday in Jiram Ghat area, some 40 km from Jagdalpur.
The Congress leaders were returning to Jagdalpur from a rally in Sukma as part of the party's state-wide Parivartan Rally in the run-up to the assembly polls due in October.