BJP MLA Bhima Mandavi and four security personnel were killed in Chhattisgarh on Tuesday as Maoists blew up their vehicle, two days before polling for the first phase of Lok Sabha elections is held in the state, the police said. Mandavi and the four others were killed as the Maoists targeted a group of BJP leaders travelling in a convoy in Dantewada district, the police added.
Visuals from the blast site showed the mangled remains of the vehicle and a gaping hole on the road on which it passed before the Maoists blew it up. Such was the impact of the blast that the bulletproof SUV was thrown in the air and split into two. Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel spoke tothe DG anti-Maoist operations, an official said.
"Our government was trying to gain trust of tribal public. So in desperation, Maoists committed this heinous crime. We took a meeting of officials and reiterated that the Maoists will be answered in their language only," he said.
Bhagel said he will be participating in the funeral on Wednesday. "Tribute will be paid to the jawans at the Police ground. The home minister, I and the director general will be present there," he added.
Former Chhattisgarh CM Raman Singh said, "I am in contact with Central ministers and spoke to PM Narendra Modi an hour ago. I will go to Dantewada and meet families of the deceased."
The incident occurred at Shyamagiri hills when the MLA's convoy was heading towards Kuwakonda from Bacheli area, about 450 km from state capital Raipur.The convoy was travelling between Kuakonta and Shyamgiri in Dantewada when it was targeted by the Maoists.The Maoists blew up a vehicle in the convoy with an IED and opened fire at the occupants, the police said.
The killed security personnel have been identified as driver Danteshwar Maurya and District Force jawans Chhagan Kuldeep, Somdu Kawasi and Ramlal Oyami.TV channels flashed grisly images of body parts strewn along a road bisecting a forest and a vehicle reduced to a heap of metal. The powerful blast left a big crater in the middle of the road.
In a statement, the CRPF said: "Between Kuakonta and Syamgiri in Dantewada, the convoy of BJP MLA Bhima Mandavi came under an IED attack today. The escort vehicle of State Police came under the blast. Five personnel of Chhattisgarh State Police are critically injured. Reinforcement of CRPF has been rushed."
Home Minister Rajnath Singh tweeted: "I spoke to Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Shri @bhupeshbaghel regarding the IED attack in Dantewada and expressed my grief over the martyrdom of state police personnel. He has also apprised me of the ground situation in Dantewada."
Prime Minister Narendra Modi "strongly" condemned the Maoists attack in Chhattisgarh, saying the sacrifice of those killed will not go in vain.
"Strongly condemn the Maoist attack in Chhattisgarh. My tributes to the security personnel who were martyred. The sacrifices of these martyrs will not go in vain," he tweeted.
The Congress condemned the attack, with party president Rahul Gandhi terming it a "very tragic" incident. Meanwhile, the Election Commission said polling in the state will be held as per the schedule.
Chief Electoral Officer, Chhattisgarh held a video conference meeting of collectors and SPs of the affected districts covering Phase 1 and phase 2 in Chhattisgarh and instructed them to take "utmost precautions" over the next fewdays.
Dantewada falls in the Bastar Lok Sabha constituency, which will go to polls in the first phase on April 11. For the elections on April 11, a security blanket ofover 80,000 personnel, and drones, has been deputed in and around the Maoist-infested Bastar region.
Four Border Security Force (BSF) personnel was killed while two others injured in an encounter with Maoists in Kanker district on Thursday. Before the assembly elections in November last year, a CISF personnel and three civilians were killed in Dantewada when an improvised explosive device planted by Maoists torethrough a bus.
Ahead of the Assembly elections in 2013 in the Maoists hotbed of Bastar, 27 people, including senior Congress leader Mahendra Karma and former Union minister V C Shukla, were killed in the ambush.
(With PTI inputs)