‘An attack on democracy’: India reeling after Maoist rebels murder politicians

The rebels may be present in as many as 20 of India’s 28 states and active in half that number

Delhi

Thousands of Indian troops have launched a hunt for Maoist rebels who carried out an audacious, daylight attack on a convoy of politicians from the ruling Congress party which left more than two dozen people dead.

India has been rocked by the attack in the central state of Chhattisgarh, one of the most brazen for several years, which also wounded a former federal minister and many party supporters. Two local leaders were kidnapped and subsequently murdered while the founder of a movement of anti-rebel militias was also killed.

It is believed up to 200 rebel fighters were involved in the two-hour attack.

“It is not an attack on Congress. It is an attack on democracy,” said Rahul Gandhi, son of Congress leader Sonia Gandhi. Mr Gandhi, who is widely expected to be a future prime minister, flew to the scene over the weekend. “But, we’ll not fear from such an attack and continue to move forward with enthusiasm,” he added.

While the rebels receive little international attention, they may be present in as many as 20 of India’s 28 states and active in half that number. In 2010 they carried out an ambush on Indian troops that left 76 dead. The Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, has called them the most important internal national security threat.

The issue of the Maoists and what has given rise to their spread is one that causes ferocious debate.

Human rights campaigners, while denouncing their attacks, have argued that exploitation by corporations and grinding poverty create conditions which allow the Maoists to recruit from tribal communities. A former chief civil servant in the home ministry said poor governance was a major reason for their spread. The authorities have largely declined to seek dialogue with the rebels and have sent thousands of troops to the worst affected areas. One of the men killed in Saturday’s attacks, Mahendra Karma, was a tribal leader and Congress party member, who was responsible for recruiting local tribesmen to join militias designed to fight the Maoists. The militias, called the Salwa Judum, were repeatedly accused of human rights abuses.

The authorities have also been swift to crack down on anyone they consider a supporter of the rebels. In 2010, Binayek Sen, a respected medical doctor, was jailed after being convicted of acting as a courier for the rebels. He is appealing against his conviction.

Saturday’s attack took place in the Bastar district, about 215 miles south of Raipur, the state capital of Chhattisgarh. Police officials said the attack happened in a heavily forested area as the members of the Congress party were returning to Raipur after a party rally involving tribal communities.

A senior police official, Ram Niwas, said thousands of troops had been dispatched to hunt for the Maoist rebels, also known as Naxalites. “There are hills, rivers and dense forests and the population is very sparse. Searching these areas is very difficult,” he told the Associated Press news agency.

Analysts said the ambush appeared to be a warning to officials to stay away from the Bastar stronghold. It has also raised questions about what security measures the politicians took before setting off. A team from a federal intelligence agency has been sent to Chhattisgarh to investigate whether the Maoists were tipped off.

“It is like a constant civil war down there,” said Aditya Nigam of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies in Delhi. “It has now reached a situation similar to that of the LTTE [Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam] in Sri Lanka when you only need one slip for something like this to happen. This was an unguarded moment.”

The Naxalite movement began in 1967 as a network of left-wing ideologues and young recruits in the village of Naxalbari outside Kolkata, the capital of West Bengal state. Two of the main factions merged in 2004 to form the Communist Party of India (Maoist).

There have been repeated reports of tribal boys being forcibly recruited to join the rebels. Estimates put the number of fighters at anywhere up to 30,000. Their strongholds are in what is termed the “Red Corridor” which runs from the border with Nepal through to the states of Orissa, West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
TV
Life and Style
Apple showed no sign of losing its talent for product launches with the new, slightly larger iPhone 6 making headlines
techSecurity breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Oliver
filmTV chef Jamie Oliver turned down role in The Hobbit
News
The official police photograph of Dustin Diamond taken after he was arrested in Wisconsin
peopleDownfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
tvReview: Top Gear team flee Patagonia as Christmas special reaches its climax in the style of Butch and Sundance
News
people
Sport
Ashley Barnes of Burnley scores their second goal
footballMan City vs Burnley match report
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca alongside Harrison Ford's Han Solo in 'Star Wars'
film
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Man of action: Christian Bale stars in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
Arts and Entertainment
Tracy Emin's 1998 piece 'My Bed' on display at Christie's
artOne expert claims she did not
News
Ernesto Che Guevara and Fidel Castro, right, met at Havana Golf Club in 1962 to mock the game
newsFidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
News
Hackers revealed Oscar-winning actress Lawrence was paid less than her male co-stars in American Hustle
people
Arts and Entertainment
Clueless? Locked-door mysteries are the ultimate manifestation of the cerebral detective story
booksAs a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Sport
Robin van Persie is blocked by Hugo Lloris
footballTottenham vs Manchester United match report
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Manager

£32000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Manager is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Panel & Cabinet Wireman

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Panel Wireman required for small electro...

Recruitment Genius: Electronics Test Engineer

£25000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An SME based in East Cheshire, ...

Day In a Page

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

Homeless Veterans appeal

Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?