New Delhi: In a grim reminder of the internal security challenge, four days before the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government marks the first anniversary of its second term in power, Maoists killed at least 33 people in a landmine blast in Dantewada, the district where the rebels carried out their deadliest attack last month.
Security threat: A video grab of security personnel carrying out rescue work after Maoists blew up a passenger bus in an explosion. PTI
The landmine explosion took place in Chingawaram block of Dantewada in Chhattisgarh at around 5pm when a civilian bus carrying state policemen, special police officers (SPOs) and civilians was blown up.
According to a home ministry spokesperson, 23 civilians and 10 SPOs were confirmed dead. SPOs are civilians of a particular area hired to assist state police and Central paramilitary forces during operations and in collecting intelligence.
“We fear that around 50 people have died in the attack. We have rushed our men to the incident site,” Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) special director general V. Raman, who heads operations against Maoists across the country, said in a telephone interview from Chhattisgarh.
State home minister Nankiram Kanwal said Maoists had been escalating the attacks on civilians over the past few days. “It shows their (Maoists) desperation. They targeted unarmed men. They are increasingly becoming (a) threat to civilians.”
On 8 May, seven CRPF personnel were killed when Maoists blew up a bullet-proof vehicle in nearby Bijapur district. The Maoists also killed six villagers in Rajnandgaon district on Sunday.
Seventy-six security personnel were killed in an attack by Maoist rebels in Dantewada on 6 April, prompting home minister P. Chidambaram to offer to resign. Analysts say the latest attack may put the UPA on the defensive and deepen unease in the ruling Congress party and the government over Chidambaram’s handling of internal security.
“The Naxal issue is a major threat to the ruling coalition, but there are different voices in the party and the government over it. While Chidambaram adopts a hardline, (Congress chief) Sonia Gandhi and some others want to address the socioeconomic causes of the challenges,” said Subrata Mukherjee, a professor in the department of political science at Delhi University.
The attack has the potential to deepen differences in the government over the handling of the issue, said Mukherjee.
The home minister could not be immediately reached for a response.
Following criticism of Chidambaram’s handling of the Maoist threat by Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh, Gandhi, in the latest issue of the party journal, also emphasized the need to address the root causes of the rebellion that has spread to 11 states and 91 districts of the country. “The rise of Naxalism is a reflection of the need for our development initiatives to reach the grass roots, especially in our backward tribal districts,” Gandhi said.
Valerian Rodrigues, a professor of political science at Jawaharlal Nehru University, saidthe latest incident could force everyone to rally behind the government. “There is already a broader backing for Chidambaram’s policy in the government... This would rally everyone behind the government and it’s not going to affect the overall policy.”
Both the ruling party and the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party called for strong action against the Maoists. Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari said economic issues related to the insurgency also need to be addressed.
PTI contributed to this story.