Sukma/Dantewada (Bastar):On 25 May 2013, gunshots rang out in the densely forested region of Chhattisgarh’s Jeeram Ghati. Heavily-armed Maoist rebels ambushed a convoy of Congress workers, killing senior leaders Mahendra Karma and V.C. Shukla. The then state party chief Nandkumar Patel, too, was gunned down by the Naxalites near Chhattisgarh’s Sukma district, considered one of the most volatile areas in the Red Corridor.

Five years on, the party is still picking up the pieces. “We are fully aware that we are still on the Naxals’ target list. But we are still trying to pick up from where the leadership left, before they were killed in 2013. We are going to areas, such as Katekalyan and Kuakonda, where people like my father had reached out to the people," said Tulika Karma, Mahendra Karma’s daughter.

Karma’s widow, Devti Karma, who contested from Dantewada in the first phase of polling on 12 November, said: “His death tore apart not just the family, but the party too. But we can’t let that stop us and let the Naxals feel that they have overpowered us. Life and work must go on."

Despite the odds, the Congress party is resilient and is putting up a brave fight against the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Even as it takes baby steps towards recovery, it is determined to deny a fourth term to the chief minister Raman Singh-led BJP government, which has been in power for 15 years.

In Sukma, a few Congress workers were found hastily putting up banners and flags in support of sitting Konta member of legislative assembly (MLA) Kawasi Lakhma, but the party office wears a forlorn, deserted look.

“Can you blame us for being afraid? Despite that we try and do as much as we can. We are constantly wary of being shot by Naxals. They try and attack party offices, too. So we either work on the field or make quick visits to the party office," said a campaign worker.

In state capital Raipur, the party leadership is hopeful of retaining control in all the 12 out of the 18 seats that went to polls in the first phase.

“We have not been daunted by what happened to us in 2013. We have emerged strong and will contest these polls with vigour and make sure we wrest control from the BJP," said Shailesh Trivedi, a senior party leader in Raipur.

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