In May 2013, Maoist insurgents attacked a convoy of Congress leaders in Chhattisgarh. At least 27 people were killed, including the party’s top state leaders. The attack took place during the tenure of the BJP government led by chief minister Raman Singh. After the incident, the Congress leader Jairam Ramesh said, “It is not a simple attack. It is a political conspiracy.” He added, “Some forces don’t want Congress to come back to power.”
On receiving a report from the state government after the attack, the home ministry handed over the investigation to the National Investigation Agency, a central counter-terrorism agency under the ministry. Five years later, in December 2018, the Congress won the Chhattisgarh assembly elections. On 18 December, hours after taking charge as the state’s chief minister, Bhupesh Baghel announced the constitution of a special investigation team to further probe the Maoist attack. Referring to the incident as a “criminal political conspiracy,” he said, “The conspirators have not been exposed. No such massacre of politicians ever took place in history. To catch the culprits, SIT has been formed.”
But the central government refused to transfer the case to the state government. In a letter to the Chhattisgarh government, on 8 February 2019, the home ministry said that the NIA had already filed a chargesheet and the trial was ongoing. In August this year, two survivors of the attack, Vivek Bajpai and Daulat Rohra, filed a writ petition in the Chhattisgarh high court, challenging the centre’s refusal to transfer the investigation. Bajpai is the current secretary of the Congress’s state unit. The survivors requested the court to examine the entire records of the case. In September, the high court issued notices to the union government and the NIA, asking them to respond to the petition.
The Maoist attack took place on 25 May 2013 in the Jheeram Ghati in the Dharba Valley along Chhattisgarh’s Jagdalpur-Sukma highway. The convoy of more than twenty vehicles carrying nearly two hundred Congress leaders and workers was travelling to attend a rally as part of a Parivartan Yatra. This area lies in the “red corridor”—a term used to denote a region covering the central, eastern and southern parts of the country that have witnessed heavy Maoist activity. A team of 150 Maoists stopped the convoy by blasting a landmine and then opened fire. The former external affairs minister Vidya Charan Shukla, the former leader of opposition in the state Mahendra Karma, then the Chhattisgarh Congress Pradesh committee president Nand Kumar Patel, his son Dinesh Kumar Patel, and other Congress leaders including Uday Mudaliyar and Gopi Madhwani were among the people killed.
The Chhattisgarh police registered a case against unknown members of the Communist Party of India (Maoist) under the Arms Act, Explosive Substances Act and Unlawful Activities Prevention Act. The next day, the Maoist party issued a press release taking responsibility for the attack. The release made it clear that Mahendra Karma was their primary target. Karma was the founder of the Salwa Judum—a state-sponsored vigilante movement launched in 2005 to counter the Maoist insurgency. The Maoists claimed that the government had tortured and killed many Adivasis across the Bastar region in the name of the Salwa Judum and Operation Green Hunt—a multi-state counter insurgency operation launched while the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance was in power at the centre.