The mangled remains of the car targeted by Maoists in Dantewada, Tuesday. Courtesy: Express

Minutes before campaigning ended in Bastar for the Lok Sabha polls on April 11, Maoists targeted a convoy in Chhattisgarh Tuesday killing BJP’s Dantewada MLA Bhima Mandavi and four others travelling with him.

Maoists attacked the convoy around near Nakulnar, around 25 km from Dantewada, and triggered a powerful IED that destroyed the bullet-proof car Mandavi was travelling in, killing him along with his driver and three security personnel. Security men in two other vehicles following him then exchanged fire with Maoists.

Mandavi was elected Dantewada MLA in December and was the only BJP MLA in the Bastar division, where the Congress won 11 of 12 seats. The others killed in the attack were the driver Danteshwar Mourya, constables Chagan Kuldeep, Ramlal Uyami and Somdu Kawasi.

The attack comes just two days before polling in Bastar on April 11 in the first phase of the LS polls, when 91 Lok Sabha seats across 18 states and two Union Territories will go to polls along with 295 Assembly seats across Andhra Pradesh (175), Odisha (28 of 147 seats), Arunachal Pradesh (60) and Sikkim (32).

Polling in Bastar will be held as per schedule, reported PTI, quoting Election Commission officials. State Chief Electoral Officer, Subrat Sahu spoke to collectors and SPs of affected districts covering phase 1 and phase 2 in Chhattisgarh and instructed them to take utmost precautions over the next few days. Chhattisgarh votes in three phases — April 11, 18 and 23.

Senior police officers said the explosion took place just minutes before 5 pm, on a road that connects Kuakonda, Bacheli and Nakulnar, 4 km from the Kuakonda Police station and 2 km from the town of Nakulnar. Sources said that a powerful IED, triggered by a command wire targeted Mandavi’s car which was at the front of the three-vehicle convoy. Those in the other vehicles then exchanged fire as well, but it is unlikely that there were any Maoist injuries or fatalities.

A command wire has been spotted by preliminary investigators, which indicates that Maoists were aware of his impending travel, given that a command IED requires manual operation by pulling a wire connected to the IED.

At the site of the attack, The Indian Express Tuesday night found a crater spanning the entire width of the single road, at least five feet deep. Mandavi’s car was mangled beyond recognition, crunched to half its size. To the right of the crater is a tree, which according to officials at the spot, the Maoists hid behind to pull the command wire. Bodies were thrown as far as 200 metres away from the car and on the ground were BJP pamphlets, used for campaigning and mangled car parts.

About 15 minutes before the attack, Mandavi spent time at the Shyamgiri Madai, an annual tribal festival, 3 km away. Those at the festival said that he spent close to 30 minutes, and then left for Dantewada. Santosh, a resident of Nakulnar who was at the Madai when Mandavi was, said, “He comes there every year. The blast was such that my family, which has a shop in Nakulnar, 2 km away heard the blast. The field in fact, right next to the blast site, is where we play cricket every Sunday.

DGP DM Awasthi and Girdhari Nayak, DGP anti-naxal operations, said that Mandavi had been warned about travelling on the road. They said that on April 8, Mandavi travelled through the constituency with adequate security including road opening parties. They said that similar security was also given to Mandavi on Tuesday morning but after campaigning Mandavi returned to the party headquarters at 1 pm and said that campaigning had ended and that he no longer needed security.

According to a police statement, when Mandavi was at the festival, police officials, in a call that lasted one minute and 59 seconds, warned him against travelling on the road.