Salwa Judum founder Karma, V C Shukla were prime targets: Maoists

India's Maoist insurgents today officially claimed responsibility for Saturday's attack on a Congress party convoy that killed 27 people and left 32 injured, several critically.

In a four-page media statement, Gudsa Usendi, spokesperson for the Dandakaranya Special Zonal Committee of the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist), said that Mahendra Karma, architect of the controversial state-sponsored Salwa Judum anti-Naxal militia, state Congress leader Nand Kumar Patel, and former union minister Vidya Charan Shukla were the prime targets of the attack.

While Karma and Patel are dead, Shukla is battling for his life. In sharp contrast to the others injured, Shukla was given VIP treatment, being flown to a Gurgaon hospital by air ambulance.  His doctors said today his condition has improved slightly, but he is still critical.

The Maoist statement said, ''Nand Kumar Patel was suppressing the people. It was in his tenure in the Centre when paramilitary forces were deployed in the Bastar area. Mahendra Karma and his family have been exploiting tribals for long. They were into land grabbing and committed atrocities on tribals. Karma had such a good relationship with Chief Minister Raman Singh that the media used to call him the 16th minister of his cabinet,'' the statement said.

''A People's Liberation Guerrilla Army (PLGA) detachment carried out the attack on the convoy. Karma was the prime target along with Patel and Shukla, but we regret killing innocents and lower Congress functionaries,'' it added.

In the note, the rebels (also known as Naxalites) have also put forward seven key demands. They want Operation Green Hunt – the anti-Naxal operation - to end and paramilitary forces to be sent back from Dandakaranya. They also want "revolutionaries" and ''innocent'' tribals to be released from jail unconditionally.

Maoist killings have become so routine that they barely make headlines any more. However, the sheer scale of this attack – as well as the fact that it was directly aimed at the Congress party – has seriously raised hackles at the centre.

Jairam Ramesh, the normally 'liberal' and pro-tribal rural development minister, said in so many words today that it was impossible to talk to the Naxalites, and stamping them down with the full might of the state was the only solution.

He also slammed ''intellectuals'' who sought to ''romanticise'' the Maoist insurgency.

Minister of state for home R P N Singh was also irate after the Maoist statement. ''24 are dead and they are trying to say they were targeting only a few people,'' he said.

While the insurgency is misguided in its approach and does need to be put down, not many will shed a tear for the leaders killed.

Little is known of Patel outside Chhattisgarh; while Shukla was a union minister during the tenure of late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, holding various portfolios.