India Vows to Fight After Congress Leaders Die in Rebel Ambush

India will send top anti-terrorism investigators to a central state after an attack by communist insurgents killed senior members of the country’s ruling party, amid recriminations over alleged security failures.

The National Investigation Agency will probe the incident in which at least 27 people died, and extra forces have been approved for Chhattisgarh state, R.P.N. Singh, junior home minister in the federal government, said by phone. Chhattisgarh is a mineral-rich province where the guerrillas, known as Naxalites or Maoists in India, have forest strongholds.

“We will pursue the perpetrators of this crime with urgency,” Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said yesterday as he visited the injured in a hospital in Raipur, Chhattisgarh’s capital, along with Congress party chief Sonia Gandhi. “I can assure the nation that the government is committed to bring them to justice.”

About 300 armed rebels blocked roads, exploded landmines and opened fire May 25 as local Congress leaders returned from a political rally in the state’s Bastar district. Four senior Congress members, including the party’s state chief and a former provincial minister, were killed, with 32 injured.

The attack underscores the instability that plagues an area of central and eastern India known as the “Red Corridor,” a swathe of territory where rebels move across state borders and fight police forces. The insurrection has hindered India’s bid to lure investment for rich seams of iron ore, coal, bauxite and other minerals.

‘Strategic Error’

The guerrillas say they are fighting for the rights of poor villagers and tribal communities whose resources are, the rebels argue, being exploited to propel India’s $1.9 trillion economy with few benefits for local people.

“Maoists have again consolidated in the Red Corridor areas by recruiting more people, holding more training camps and motivating locals after making a strategic error by expanding to new urban areas where they lost cadres and some leaders,” said Ajai Sahni, executive director of the New Delhi-based Institute for Conflict Management.

“Administrations and security forces are ignorant of the reality at ground and have not been able to increase their capabilities and capacities in terms of training, intelligence gathering and acquiring technology to dominate them.”

Gandhi said the ambush was a cowardly attack on the country’s democracy. Her son, Rahul Gandhi, scion of the Nehru-Gandhi family that is preeminent in Indian politics, said the Congress party won’t be cowed by such attacks.

Join Hands

Congress leaders staged protests in other states, accusing the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government in Chhattisgarh of failing to provide adequate security for the Congress vehicles, the Press Trust of India news agency reported. The BJP postponed a planned series of demonstrations against the federal Congress-led ruling alliance to show its sympathy, the agency said, and called on political parties to join hands to fight the threat posed by militancy.

While the weekend strike was one of the biggest on politicians in the four-decade insurrection, casualties among civilians and the security forces have fallen in recent years.

In April 2010, rebels killed 76 policemen in the Dantewada district of Chhattisgarh, the deadliest attack on security forces. That year, Maoists killed 1,005 civilians and security personnel, a figure that fell to 611 in 2011 and 415 last year, according to government data.

‘Spring Thunder’

Singh has called the insurgents the greatest threat to India’s internal security. India in October 2009 intensified its offensive against the guerrillas.

The leftwing insurgents were named after the West Bengal village of Naxalbari where demands for land reform coalesced into a radical uprising in 1967, inspired by the thoughts of Mao Zedong. The Indian revolt was greeted as “a peal of spring thunder” by China’s People’s Daily when it began.

NMDC Ltd., India’s largest iron-ore producer, operates its biggest mine in Chhattisgarh, and Essar Steel Ltd., India’s fourth ranked producer of the alloy, plans to build a $1.5 billion steel plant there. The Maoists in 2009 blew up an Essar pipeline built to transport iron ore from the NMDC mine.

Efforts to defeat the rebels are being hampered by too few police, while the absence of roads, schools and hospitals makes it hard to win over sympathizers of the guerrillas, Palaniappan Chidambaram said last year when he was the home minister. He now heads the Ministry of Finance.

Among those killed May 25 were Congress state chief Nand Kumar Patel and Mahendra Karma, the architect of a villager force called the Salwa Judum that was used by the state to counter Maoists. A former federal minister, V.C. Shukla, was injured and airlifted to a hospital near New Delhi.

Karma, who had survived at least four attempts on his life, was the prime target of the insurgents, the Hindustan Times reported today, citing eyewitnesses. The rebels sang and danced around his body after the attack, the paper said.

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