With three days to go for polls in the Bastar region of Chhattisgarh, left-wing extremists shot down four civilians and one Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) personnel in Dantewada district.
The Naxals also attacked a team of Congress workers that included Chhavendra Karma, the son of Salwa Judum founder Mahendra Karma, who was killed in an ambush in 2013.
The attack comes a day before the Prime Minister and the Congress President are scheduled to address rallies in and around Bastar, including Jagdalpur.
Workers of both national parties, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress, have stayed away from the village clusters in the interiors of Dantewada and Sukma, in the face of Naxal threats. They have called for a election boycott through posters, leaflets and graffiti.
'There are 212 voting centres, of which we can’t campaign in 62 because the police have warned us against it. The Naxals have issued shoot-at-sight orders against all BJP campaigners. In Sukma, we can’t even use loudspeakers because everyone is on the Naxals’ hit list. All we can do is quietly go and put posters and flags here and there,' said a senior BJP leader in Sukma.
The BJP workers at an election centre in Sukma scrambled to wrap up election-related work before sundown, to avoid being targeted by Naxals, despite two gunmen provided by the state. In 2013, Naxals had killed the entire state leadership of the Congress in Jeeram Ghati, halfway between Jagdalpur and Sukma. They stabbed Mahendra Karma 78 times.
Karma’s wife, Devti Karma, is the Congress candidate from the Dantewada constituency. However, she is forced to stay within city limits. 'We cannot reach the people because we have been warned by the security forces that we are likely to be gunned down if we step out of this two-km radius. In areas such as Katekalyan and Kuakonda, people can’t even vote because there is a complete clampdown by Naxals,' she said.
Security personnel, who have been conducting area-domination exercises to ensure that there are no improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and also to keep Naxals at bay, say that the LWEs have upped their ante in the guerilla warfare.
'Their tactics involve laying down spikes, pressure bombs and IEDs on roads, deploying short action teams of 2-3 people to take down small groups, psychological warfare through false propaganda, and targeted ambushes against forces. We are trying to sensitize people on these issues and hope to outsmart the Naxals,' said Mr. Abhishek Pallav, the Dantewada superintendent of police.