18 Congress workers also die as Naxalites encircle the motorcade and open fire from all sides in Chhattisgarh

Mahendra Karma, a powerful tribal leader of the Congress from south Chhattisgarh, who founded Salwa Judum to combat Maoists, was killed in an attack in which at least 18 party workers also died at Darbha, 400 km south of the capital, on Saturday.

Senior leader Uday Mudaliar also died in the attack, Congress president Sonia Gandhi told reporters in New Delhi. While there was no official confirmation of the deaths till late on Saturday night, police sources told The Hindu that they feared 18 deaths.

A battalion of Naxalites attacked the motorcade of the Congress workers and leaders in the hilly areas of Darbha while they were returning from Sukma after an election rally. “The Naxals first blasted the second and third car of the motorcade and opened fire,” said Additional Director-General (Intelligence) Mukesh Gupta.

Senior Congress leader Vidya Charan Shukla is severely injured but safe and Congress president in Chhattisgarh Nandkumar Patel and his son have been abducted by the militants. “We cannot launch a search operation at night, as there is a chance of our getting ambushed,” said an official of the Bastar district administration.

Konta MLA Kawasi Lakhma was injured and admitted to hospital. A high-level meeting was convened at Chief Minister Raman Singh’s residence. “Senior official attended the meeting and apprised Mr. Singh of the situation,” said an officer attached to the Chief Minister. A team of doctors has been sent by road to Jagdalpur.

Senior Congress leader Ajit Jogi, who was also present at the rally, alleged that the administration did not provide adequate security. “I asked the local police about the security as there was virtually nothing. While huge security forces are deployed for a BJP rally, there is virtually no security cover for us.”

The Congress launched the fourth phase of Parivartan Yatra (march for change) in south Chhattisgarh on Thursday. At the end of the rally in Sukma, more than a hundred Congress workers and leaders were coming back in a motorcade.

After crossing Tongpal around 4 p.m., when the motorcade reached the hilly tract of Darbha, between Jagdalpur and Sukma, the driver of the first vehicle noticed a roadblock.

“A tree and a truck were used to block the road,” said a local journalist. Once the vehicles stopped, the second and third cars were blasted. Then the Naxalites encircled the area, opening fire from all sides. Local Congress workers, some of whom were present at the rally, claimed that at least 20 of their workers were killed.

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