India Antiterror Agency Probes Maoist Ambush That Killed 24

Source: The Wall Street Journal

NEW DELHI—India’s federal antiterror agency will probe a weekend attack blamed on Maoist insurgents in Chhattisgarh state that left two dozen people dead, including local leaders of the ruling Congress party, government officials said Monday.

The government, which earlier had said 28 people were killed in Saturday’s ambush in the state’s Jagdalpur region, revised the toll to 24 on Monday. Some bodies were counted twice initially, one of the officials from the federal home ministry said.

The official said the National Investigation Agency will investigate the attack. The government also will send 2,000 more paramilitary personnel to reinforce the state’s fight against the rebels, he said.

Thousands have been killed in the Maoist insurgency that began in the late 1960s as a peasant uprising.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has described the movement as India’s biggest internal security challenge. On Sunday, Mr. Singh indicated the government could intensify its fight against the rebels who are skilled in jungle warfare and equipped with modern weapons.

“We will pursue the perpetrators of this crime with urgency and I can assure the nation that the government is committed to bringing them to justice,” he said in Raipur, the capital of Chhattisgarh. “Those who commit such dastardly crimes are working against the interests of peace and development in the area.”

Chhattisgarh is rich with minerals such as iron ore and bauxite. It is also one of the most-affected by the country’s Maoist insurgency.

The rebels say they are fighting for the rights of tribes and the rural poor who they say have been left out of India’s economic development and have been exploited by companies looking for minerals. According to authorities, the insurgency has crippled economic activity in India’s central and eastern regions including Chhattisgarh, worsening unemployment and poverty.

Saturday’s ambush, in which the suspected insurgents set off a land mine and fired at a convoy of cars carrying Congress workers from a party rally, was one of the most deadly targeting politicians. Among those killed were Chhattisgarh Congress chief Nand Kumar Patel and Mahendra Karma, a party leader who founded the government-backed militia, known as Salwa Judum, to fight Maoist rebels.

Senior Congress party leader and former federal minister Vidya Charan Shukla was among 32 injured. Mr. Shukla, 84 years old, was airlifted to New Delhi Sunday and is undergoing treatment at a hospital near the national capital.

“He is critical, but stable,” said Naresh Trehan, chairman of Medanta Hospital, where Mr. Shukla is being treated.

The rebels are inspired by Chinese revolutionary leader Mao Zedong. They are also called Naxalites because the movement began in Naxalbari, a town in West Bengal state. The insurgency spread in the 1980s to Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh. Chhattisgarh was later carved out of Madhya Pradesh.

Home ministry data on Maoist attacks and arrests show the insurgency is extending into states such as Karnataka, Punjab, and deeper into Uttar Pradesh.In Karnataka, a southern Indian state, a police officer was killed by Maoists in 2011. Senior insurgent leaders were arrested in Punjab and Delhi, both in the north, between 2009 and 2012.

R.K. Vij, the top police official in charge of Chhattisgarh’s anti-Maoist operations, said the state police had launched a special drive against rebels last month. But, given the vast territory and forests the police need to cover, more forces are required, he said.

According to the home ministry official, the federal government has deployed 81,000 paramilitary personnel to fight Maoists. Nearly 40% of this is in Chhattisgarh, he said.