Three days after the grisly strike on the Congress convoy in the jungles of Chhattisgarh's Bastar district, which killed 27 people including senior party leaders, Maoists have claimed responsibility for it.
In a four-page letter and an audio cassette sent to the media on Tuesday, they said the May 25 attack was meant as a revenge on Congress leader Mahendra Karma, PCC chief Nand Kumar Patel and former Union minister VK Shukla.
In the letter, Gudsa Usendi, spokesperson for Dandkaranya special zonal committee of Maoists, said, "The purpose was to punish Mahendra Karma, who had launched the anti-naxal movement Salwa Judum. His family has been traditional oppressors of tribals".
Patel was "punished" for deploying paramilitary forces in Bastar when he was the state's home minister. Shukla was the "enemy of the common man".
The Maoists had shot Karma and staged a victory dance around the body. Patel and his son Dinesh were dragged out of their car and shot as well.
Shukla, who had been hit by three bullets, is in a critical condition.
The central leaders of the Congress and the BJP came in for fire as well.
The letter criticised Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and BJP chief Rajnath Singh for terming the killing "an attack on democratic values".
It further demanded that the anti-Maoist Operation Green Hunt be called off and jailed Maoist leaders be released.
The Centre ruled out accepting the demands or holding talks.
Indicating that the anti-Maoist operations will be intensified, minister of state for home RPN Singh said, "There is a need to take a relook at the policy dealing with Maoists".
The Chhattisgarh government has already suspended Jagdalpur superintendent of police Mayank Shrivastava and transferred Bastar inspector general of police Himanshu Gupta.
Karma's district, Dantewada, meanwhile, crawled with security forces, while locals stayed home. His village, Kavalnar, looked desolate. The neighbouring Alnar village was silent.
"We are terrified of going out, as Maoists or the security forces might target us," said a local, Jaldev Nag.
In Keshpur, BJP leader Napu Tula said he was thinking of quitting politics.
"No one thought politicians would be targeted this way. Security comes first," he said.
The attitude did not help mitigate the fear factor.
Farmer Pusao Saran voiced everyone's concern: "We are poor. Who will make us feel secure?"
Mahendra Karma: the man and his legacy
# Born in the left wing extremism-hit Dantewada district of Bastar, Mahendra Karma believed in an eye-for-an-eye method to beat Maoists at their own game.
# A combative leader, Karma was a minister in undivided Madhya Pradesh. After Chhattisgarh was carved out of MP in 2000, he became the industry and commerce minister of the new state.
# After the Congress lost in the 2003 elections, he was made the leader of the opposition in the assembly. From 2005 onwards, he devoted his energies towards organising Salwa Judum.
# After early attempts to kill him, Maoists made concerted efforts to target him in 2010 and 2011. He narrowly escaped an ambush in Dantewada on November 8, 2012, after rebels triggered a landmine blast targeting his vehicle. Saturday’s ambush was the fifth major attempt on his life
# Karma, lauded by his supporters as “Bastar Tiger”, got Z plus category security because Maoists never gave up hunting him.
# Though he lost the 2008 assembly elections, he remained a key figure for the Congress in conflict-ridden Bastar’s seven districts. He had been actively campaigning to win the support of tribals for the Congress
What is Salwa Judum
# Meaning ‘purification hunt’ in tribal dialect, Salwa Judum began as a spontaneous uprising against Naxals in Ambeli village in Kutru block of Bijapur district on June 4, 2005.
# Government soon stepped in and funded the movement, turning it into a mercenary force against Maoists, with Karma its leading supporter.
# Hundreds of tribals brought into its fold, often through coercion; boys as young as 15 years old given arms training, subsidised ration and R2100 monthly at Salwa Judum camps.
# National and international human rights organisations accuse the group of torture, killings and rape especially during joint operations aimed at bringing scattered villages under the Salwa Judum.
# On July 5, 2011, the Supreme Court declared the militia as illegal and unconstitutional, and ordered its disbanding. Chhattisgarh government was asked to recover all the firearms, ammunition and accessories from Salwa Judum members.
(With inputs from Agencies)
The statement by spokesperson of Dandkaranya Vishesh Zonal Committee Gudsa Usendi: