Death toll rises to 24; Shukla flown to Gurgaon for treatment

The death toll in Saturday’s attack on the motorcade of Congress leaders and workers in Chhattisgarh rose to 24 after the bullet-ridden bodies of abducted state Congress party chief Nand Kumar Patel, his son Dinesh and eight others were found on Sunday in Jeeram Ghati of Darbha area. Sixteen of the deceased are civilians, while the rest are personal security guards of the leaders, the Chief Minister’s office told The Hindu.

Former Union Minister V. C. Shukla, who was injured in the attack, was airlifted to Medanta Hospital in Gurgaon on Delhi’s outskirts from Raipur early this morning.

Doctors said the condition of Mr. Shukla, who underwent an operation in Jagdalpur hospital for the removal of three bullets, was critical.

Chief Minister Raman Singh has ordered a judicial inquiry in to the incident to be conducted by a sitting judge of the High Court. The family members of the deceased will be given a compensation of Rs. 5 lakh, and the injured will get Rs. 2 lakh each.

Earlier in the day, Manmohan Singh along with Congress president Sonia Gandhi visited the hospital in Raipur where the injured leaders were admitted. The Prime Minister announced Rs. 5 lakh ex-gratia relief from the National Relief Fund for the family members of the deceased and Rs. 50,000 for those injured in the attack. Addressing the workers in the Congress Bhawan in Kotowali police station area of Raipur, Dr. Singh said the “country will never bow before Naxalism.”

On Saturday, Salwa Judum founder Mahendra Karma, ex-MLA Uday Mudliyar were among killed in the Maoist ambush in the forested areas of Jeeram. The bodies of Mahendra Karma and Uday Mudliyar were taken to their respective hometowns in Dantewada and Rajnandgaon. Senior Congress leader V.C. Shukla was injured in the ambush and was airlifted today to a hospital in Gurgaon from Raipur.

The Prime Minister said, “We will pursue the perpetrators of this crime with urgency and I can assure the nation that the Government is committed to bringing them to justice. Those who commit such dastardly crimes are working against the interests of peace and development in the area”, he said. Extending his condolences to the families of those who lost their lives in Saturday’s incident, Dr. Singh asked the State government to facilitate the best medical care to the injured. Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, Union Minister Charan Das Mahant, Rajya Sabha MPs Motilal Vora, Mohsina Kidwai and other senior party leaders were also present at Congress Bhavan.

The Prime Minister also reviewed the security situation in Chhattisgarh with the Chief Minister of the state and other officials. The Chhattisgarh cabinet passed a resolution condemning the Saturday’s incident and thanking the Prime Minister for extending his support.

However, the Congress state leadership feels Dr. Singh was “distressed” by the security situation. “The Prime Minister at one point asked, who is responsible for this incident. Nobody could answer the question for two minutes,” said Congress spokesperson Shailesh Nitin Tribedi.

Later in the evening, the body of Nand Kumar Patel and his son were brought to the Congress Bhawan for party workers to pay homage. Initially some of the party workers broke down in front of the aluminium cascade kept in front of the office premises. Slowly the grief changed to anger as the workers started blaming the Raman Singh government for the lapse in security. “This has been a conspiracy,” said a grieving Amit Gupta of Kawardha, who was personally grateful to Mr. Patel for getting him a job. Mr. Patel and his son Dinesh were abducted by Maoists and found dead in Jeeram Ghati on Sunday morning.

Earlier, Congress workers went on a rampage across the State. Youth on motorbikes with Congress flags and clubs could be seen on the main national highway, NH30, connecting Jagdalpur and Raipur, threatening shop owners and truck drivers. Some of the supporters were temporarily detained in various places.

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