‘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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
fashionHealth concerns and 'pornified' perceptions have made women more conscious at the beach
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Sport
Ojo Onaolapo celebrates winning the bronze medal
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
Rock band Led Zeppelin in the early 1970s
musicLed Zeppelin to release alternative Stairway To Heaven after 43 years
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmHe was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
Sport
Van Gaal said that his challenge in taking over Bobby Robson's Barcelona team in 1993 has been easier than the task of resurrecting the current United side
footballA colourful discussion on tactics, the merits of the English footballer and rebuilding Manchester United
Life and Style
Sainsbury's could roll the lorries out across its whole fleet if they are successful
tech
Travel
The shipping news: a typical Snoozebox construction
travelSpending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Arts and Entertainment
'Old Fashioned' will be a different kind of love story to '50 Shades'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Tracey Emin's 'My Bed' is returning to the Tate more than 15 years after it first caused shockwaves at the gallery
artTracey Emin's bed returns to the Tate after record sale
Arts and Entertainment
Smart mover: Peter Bazalgette
filmHow live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences
Environment
Neil Young performing at Hyde Park, London, earlier this month
environment
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

Project Coordinator

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: The Organisation: The Green Recrui...

Project Manager (HR)- Bristol - Upto £400 p/day

£350 - £400 per annum + competitive: Orgtel: Project Manager (specializing in ...

Embedded Linux Engineer

£40000 - £50000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Embedded Sof...

Senior Hardware Design Engineer - Broadcast

£50000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Working for a m...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

Feather dust-up

A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
Boris Johnson's war on diesel

Boris Johnson's war on diesel

11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
5 best waterproof cameras

Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

Louis van Gaal interview

Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

Will Gore: Outside Edge

The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz