Bastar bloodbath: Parties and govt assess blow

The initial incomprehension in the Chhattisgarh Congress gave way to dismay as the scale of the Sukma attack began to sink in, and finally to violence as the party observed a bandh on Sunday after its state chief Nand Kumar Patel was found dead. Activists blocked trains and road traffic and ransacked several offices, targeting particularly those of the BJP.

By the time Rahul Gandhi was addressing them late on Saturday night, the demoralised party workers were already wondering who would lead them, though Patel's body would be found only in the morning. News of the attack on the Parivartan Yatra broke around 5 pm, but it was only around 8 pm that the first hint came about Patel having possibly been killed. Kawasi Lakhma, Konta MLA, who was injured in the attack, told his party colleagues that he had heard a sudden burst of fire moments after he had seen the Maoists disappear into the forest after abducting Patel and his son.

"Lakhma told me... it is probably all over," party media convener Shailesh Nitin Trivedi said, before the party's fears were confirmed in the morning.

Party men crowding Raipur's Congress Bhavan alleged the security provided to their leaders hadn't been enough. Maoists had declared a Bastar bandh on Sunday, but police provided only a "follow" vehicle for a convoy of over 20 that was to pass through the Maoist stronghold, Congress leaders said. "Police had not even issued us an advisory about the bandh. How would we know? We presumed everything was fine, that the administration would ensure our security," said MLA T S Sinhadev, who was in the yatra but whose vehicle had travelled a couple of kilometres ahead.

By midnight, several of the injured had been admitted to Maharani Hospital in Jagdalpur, and some to Raipur. Rahul arrived around 1 am as party men were asking one another who would lead them in the elections later this year. "Now Rahulji, Soniaji are arriving, let them decide," said a leader.

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