Mahendra Karma who led Salwa Judum escapes with minor injuries

Senior Congress leader Mahendra Karma, who led the Salwa Judum movement in south Chhattisgarh in 2005, was attacked by Maoists on Thursday in Dantewada district. A powerful landmine was triggered under his bullet-proof Bolero when he was travelling from his hometown in Dantewada. Mr. Karma and the driver, Sukeshwar Jhole, received ‘minor injuries,’ Dantewada SP Narendra Khare told The Hindu.

Mr. Karma, the former Leader of the Opposition in the Assembly, was travelling from his village, Pharaspal, 18 km north of Dantewada town, to the district headquarters. The landmine went off in Kamalnar, a forested area about eight km from Dantewada town. Mr. Karma’s vehicle was in the centre of the seven-strong convoy.

“There were three vehicles [ahead of] Mr. Karma’s Bolero [and three behind]. The landmine went off under Mr. Karma’s vehicle. Then a group of about 20 Maoists started firing from all sides,” said Mr. Khare.

Mr. Karma, who gets Z category security, was accompanied by 25 armed forces personnel who returned fire and eventually managed to clear the area, Mr. Khare said. Mr. Karma reached Raipur in a helicopter in the evening and was admitted in Ramkrishna Care Hospital. His family members told The Hindu he was ‘safe.’

Salwa Judum or ‘Campaign for Peace,’ was spearheaded by Mahendra Karma to counter the Maoist movement. Local tribals were recruited and armed as a part of the campaign to fight the Maoists. Twenty-five camps were set up, where villagers from Maoist-controlled areas were settled. The Salwa Judum members have admitted to killing several tribals, including Maoists, and destroyed many villages. The Maoists retaliated and several low-intensity combats were reported in south Chhattisgarh till 2009.

The Salwa Judum campaign enjoyed the support of both the State government and the Centre till the Supreme Court disbanded the outfit in 2011. Mr. Karma has come in for flak from various national and international human rights groups for organising the Salwa Judum but, reportedly, continues to control some of the tribal pockets of south Chhattisgarh.