RAIPUR — At least 55 people were killed yesterday in Chhattisgarh when Maoist guerrillas blasted two trucks carrying villagers returning from an anti-rebel meeting in one of the worst massacres since the ultra-left extremist movement began in India four decades ago.
All the victims died almost instantly when landmines packed with explosives stolen from a mineral company February 9 went off with a deafening roar in Darmagura area in Dantewada district, about 500km south of here, Chhattisgarh Additional Director-General of Police S.K. Paswan told IANS here.
“Maoists set off the landmines in Darmagura, in an area bordering Andhra Pradesh,” Paswan said.
Paswan, who is supervising the police crackdown following the attack, said the ambush took place at 11am when the tribal villagers were returning home after attending an anti-Maoist rally called by the state’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
He said at least 55 people were killed, about 20 injured and that the death toll was likely to go up.
“With no hospitals in that impoverished area, I don’t see how the seriously injured can survive,” a police source added.
“The blast site is in a forested area dotted with hills and the exact information about casualties is coming in very slowly,” Paswan said.
Stunned by the severity of the attack, Chief Minister Raman Singh called an emergency meeting of the cabinet.
Raman Singh ordered relief operation at the blast site and asked the authorities to ferry the injured to Raipur for advanced medical treatment.
Home Minister Ramvichar Netam vowed to hit back. “It is an act of cowardice. The government will not spare those who killed the innocent tribals,” Netam told IANS.
He said the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and the Nagaland Armed Police (NAP) had been asked to cordon off the whole area and track down the attackers.
The attack has been blamed on the outlawed Communist Party of India-Maoist, which considered Dantewada a stronghold and which has been blamed for hundreds of death in recent years.
On February 9, suspected CPI-M cadres looted 20 tonnes of explosives from the National Mineral Development Corp (NMDC) office in Dantewada district, killing eight men of the Central Industrial Security Force.
This prompted the state government to deploy the National Security Guard in anti-Maoist operations, which have got a tremendous boost since many tribals in the area chose to go against the Maoists in June last year.
In the process, many areas that were considered Maoist bastions became accessible to the security forces, causing serious worry to the guerrillas who had considered the tribals their natural ally.
The Maoist movement in India began in 1967 in West Bengal, in the country’s east. Maoists are now active in at least nine states in east and southern India, principally in Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Bihar and Andhra Pradesh.