On the ground a thick layer of engine oil stained the hilly road. The bus was flipped on its side and parts of the engine were scattered, the carburettor on one side and the engine fan about 300 m away. In the crater that the IED blast created was an unopened notebook and stuck in the grease of the engine oil were tin containers of food, tomatoes and eggplants.
At the curve about 50 m from the blast site, a signboard declared the beauty of the hills and the road — “Ye Sundar Sadak aapki suvidha ke liye hai”. The sign looked ironical now, with the forests of Bastar resonating with the sounds of pre-poll violence after an IED blast killed a CISF head constable and four civilians. Senior police officers said the private bus had been requisitioned by the state government for elections in Bastar and the victims were on their way to town to buy supplies.
In the wake of the attack, police investigators are literally picking up the pieces. In hushed tones, one said they had located a wire used to set off the IED. Another officer said the blast would have taken place under the engine. One man told a government photographer, “Sab cheez ka photo lijiye.” And then snapping at journalists getting in the way, he said, “Aap forensic se ho kya? Door se bhi toh le sakte ho.”
This is the third such serious attack in the past two weeks. On October 27, four CRPF men were killed when a mobile bunker was attacked in Bijapur district. Three days later, a DD cameraperson and two policemen died in a Maoist ambush in Dantewada. On Wednesday, Maoists in Usur set ablaze a bus after getting the passengers to disembark.
While senior police officers maintain that they are keeping the highest level of vigilance in the aftermath of these attacks, a common thread has emerged in all three attacks.
D M Awasthi, Special DG, Anti Naxal Operations, told The Indian Express in the aftermath of the attack on October 30 that “predictability can be dangerous”. This was in response to a question of repeated trips of policemen accompanying media personnel, creating a pattern. “This is all a matter of investigation. But yes, if there was a pattern of the police and the media going to the same village together for some time, then it could be easier to predict,” he said.
Predictability was a word also used by IG Vivekanand Sinha on Thursday when he told reporters that word had been sent to CISF that they were routinely using these buses for “admn” work and this created a predictable pattern. A senior officer in Anti-Naxal Operations division said even in Bijapur, “the one clear problem was that the mobile bunker was parked at largely the same spot every day”.
Asked about this pattern, a senior police officer said, “This is something we have talked about in every meeting. Let us not lose sight of the fact that the ultimate culprits are the Maoists who want to make every election cycle bloody. But yes, given that we know this, more care has to be taken.”
Dantewada District Magistrate Saurabh Kumar said the violence was a “backlash” against government advances. “Over the past few years, new avenues have opened up for the government, in terms of roads, healthcare and so on. Polls were going to be held in new areas, and there is growth on that side as well. This violence is a backlash against that.”
This, however, is not the first time elections in Bastar have seen violence. In April 2014, on polling day for Lok Sabha elections, seven polling officials and five CRPF personnel were killed in twin blasts.
A senior police officer said, “These next few days are crucial and everyone is on high alert. The polling day, November 12, is the most dangerous, and if these attacks are any indicator, Maoists are on the lookout.”