Seven members of a polling team and five CRPF personnel were among 14 killed as Maoists struck twice in less than an hour in Bastar, Chhattisgarh, just two days after peaceful elections were held in the region.
In the first incident on Saturday, armed rebels numbering close to 100 triggered a landmine blast to target a passenger bus in Bijapur district and then showered bullets on it, killing seven poll officials on board and injuring five. The poll officials were returning to the district headquarters.
Less than an hour later, another powerful landmine blast blew up an ambulance carrying CRPF jawans on NH-30 near Darbha in Jagdalpur district, 350km south of capital Raipur. Five troopers were killed and five injured while the driver and emergency medical technician of the ambulance, belonging to the 108 Sanjeevani emergency service, also died.
The rest of Chhattisgarh, including several Maoist-hit constituencies, will vote in the Lok Sabha elections in two phases on April 17 and April 24. The state’s chief electoral officer Sunil Kujur said there would be re-polls if EVMs were damaged in the Bijapur attack.
The attacks could have been averted had both parties not violated the basic rules of operating in a Maoist-affected area, CRPF sources told HT. “The polling party was to travel on foot to avoid landmines, under the watch of CRPF personnel walking ahead to secure the route. But inexplicably, they hitched a ride on a bus that was then blown up,” said a senior CRPF official.
Similarly, the 10 CRPF troops returning from a road opening exercise in Darbha valley decided to hop on to the ambulance and fell prey to a blast. “I can understand they may have been tired… but it was again an example of not following the basics of operating in a Red area. They paid a heavy price and it is sad,” the official said, adding, “We have again told our officials on the ground to strictly follow the basics.”
Earlier on April 7, three CRPF personnel, including a deputy commandant, were killed and seven injured when they tried to defuse a landmine planted by Maoists in Bihar’s Aurangabad district — again in violation of the rules. The CRPF has lost 14 personnel while on poll duty for the general elections.
In a strongly worded statement, a Union home ministry spokesperson said, “The Maoists have killed poor teachers and other civilians who were part of the democratic process. This shows they are just terrorists.”
“The CRPF has consciously taken the responsibility of taking care of the worst Maoist-affected areas during polls. It is unfortunate we lost our men but that won’t deter us from ensuring the electoral process is not hampered in the next phases,” said CRPF IG (operations) Julfiquar Hasan.
Additional director general of police (anti-Maoist operations) RK Vij said the attacks reflected the rebels’ frustration at the peaceful polls in Bastar, which saw a 52% voter turnout despite boycott calls by Maoists.
In the Darbha attack, Bastar SP Ajay Yadav said, “someone sitting just 100 metres away seems to have triggered the blast. The Maoists were perhaps aware of who was inside the ambulance”.
Additional forces from nearby base camps and police stations were rushed to the areas and search operations continued till late evening. The injured have been hospitalised.