Leaders’ deaths high on Congress poll agenda

    By Jaideep Sarin, IANS,

    Raipur : Having seen its top brass wiped out by Maoists in May, the Congress party does not want the sacrifice to go in vain as it braces for the second and final round of polling in Chhattisgarh Tuesday.

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    At election rallies, with 72 constituencies in the 90-member assembly going to the polls Tuesday, Congress leaders keep reminding people that they have made “sacrifices” from the British era to the Sukma incident.

    Nearly 30 people, including former union minister Vidya Charan Shukla, then Chhattisgarh Congress president Nand Kumar Patel and his son Dinesh, tribal leader Mahendra Karma and legislator Uday Mudaliyar, were killed when Maoists ambushed their convoy in a forest part of Sukma. Around 250 Maoists were believed to have carried out the deadly attack.

    Mahendra Karma, a former minister who had formed an anti-Maoist vigilante in the Bastar region, was stabbed nearly 80 times and shot at.

    Nand Kumar Patel and his son were abducted and their bodies, with stab and bullet injuries, were found later.

    Having been in the opposition in Chhattisgarh since 2003, the Congress does not forget to tell people of the killings of its top state leaders in the May incident.

    “Our entire leadership was killed in one incident. No one knows till now what happened there,” a visibly agitated Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi told a rally in the state capital Raipur Friday.

    He said that there was “more violence and fear in Chhattisgarh than even in the terrorism-affected state of Jammu and Kashmir”.

    Chhattisgarh Congress president Charan Das Mahant too reminds the people at all Congress rallies that the sacrifice of the Congress leaders should not go waste.

    “They (leaders) had started their Parivartan Yatra (March for Change) when they were attacked and so many were killed. The Raman Singh government cannot ensure safety of people,” Mahant says.

    Senior Congress central leaders, including Moti Lal Vora, Mohsina Kidwai, Shrikant Jena and Bhaktcharan Das, refer at length to the massacre at all their rallies.

    The soft-spoken Ayurvedic doctor-turned-politician Chief Minister Raman Singh, who has headed the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government since 2003, is the target of attack by the Congress leadership over lawlessness and growing Maoist menace in the state.

    “Chhattisgarh has the highest number of Maoist-affected districts (in the country),” Rahul Gandhi said.

    Congress leaders say that till 2003, when the Congress went out of power here, the Maoist problem was limited to a small area.

    “Now, half of Chhattisgarh is under serious threat and people live in fear,” Mahant said.

    Eighteen seats in the Maoist-affected Bastar region of the state and a neighbouring district went to the polls under tight security Nov 11 and recorded a high polling percentage of over 75 percent.

    The Congress leadership is claiming that the high polling is an indicatior for change. The second and final phase of polling for 72 seats is due Tuesday.

    (Jaideep Sarin can be contacted at [email protected])