A stretch of no mans land between two police stations,a hijacked truck and abject surrender by a group of armed policemen helped Naxalites carry out one of their most successful attacks last month,wiping out the Chhattisgarh Congress leadership in one stroke.
Investigations into the attack have so far found no evidence of any political conspiracy except for contesting claims on Konta MLA Kawasi Lakmas role. Sources,however,cautioned that these were still unsubstantiated and investigations were now focused on finding those directly involved in the attack for further corroboration.
The National Investigation Agency,which was entrusted the probe after a heated meeting at the Chhattisgarh governors residence,is yet to submit any formal report but has made some initial headway in reconstructing the attack.
One such finding is that the Maoists had stopped some four-five trucks just before the convoy arrived at the spot in a bid to keep this stretch clear. They took the drivers and helpers hostage. Local teachers,who had hitched a ride on one of the trucks,later saw the Naxals killing Congress PCC chief Nand Kumar Patel and his son Dinesh Patel.
Investigators suspect that one truck was,however,hijacked by the Maoists and made to go along with the convoy.
It also allowed two vehicles from the convoy overtake,given that there was a landmine up ahead. While one of these vehicles went past the land mine,the other blew up. The truck then turned and was parked across the road like a barrier,preventing any other vehicle from veering off.
The mine was,incidentally,not that powerful and was placed just minutes before the attack without the usual effort to conceal the wires.
Contrary to initial impression,investigations have found that road opening parties,which move well ahead of a VIP convoy to check for mines and ambush,had indeed been provided. But the Maoists had chosen a short stretch of the highway which is like a no mans land between two neighbouring police stations Tongpal and Darbha.
As per procedure,the CRPF road opening party attached to Tongpal police station stopped at its jurisdictional limits while that of Darbha police station had cleared up its side of the road and awaited the arrival of the convoy. In between lay the short curvy stretch of about 5 km,known as Darbha Ghaati.
The Naxals were aware of this gap in the policing grid to plan their attack. The motive,sources said,was clearly to kill Salwa Judum founder and senior Congress leader Mahendra Karma. The Maoist commander,who was referred to as Vinod,went straight for Karma and killed him even as he pleaded to spare the rest.
There was initial resistance as some of Karmas security personnel opened fire. But that did not last long. Interrogations have now revealed that most security personnel simply took off their shirts and discarded their weapons to look more like locals rather than armed police. Just over 30 rounds were fired in the brief gunfire exchange. Later,the Maoists took off with eight AK 47s and 15 pistols.
One of the Congress workers in Vidya Charan Shuklas car,who has a PhD in Hindi,is learnt to have claimed to the Maoists that he was a medical doctor,not a Congressman,and should be spared. To emphasise the point,he started providing first aid to Shukla and some others.
The Maoists,incidentally,never went after Shukla,who sustained bullet injuries in the initial crossfire. In fact,the Maoists offered him water along with the others,urging them to taste their water as opposed to plastic bottles.
Preliminary investigations also suggest that there was considerable discussion among the Maoists over killing Patel and his son. The attackers,who were using radio sets for communication,sought instructions and eventually killed the two only towards the end.
Meanwhile,local police officials have told investigators that they took longer time to reach because they moved by foot to avoid any ambush. This is stipulated in the standard operation procedures after several such incidents,where reinforcements had been targeted.