RAIPUR, India: Ultra-leftist rebels set off a landmine under a truck yesterday in the Indian state of Chhattisgarh, killing 55 people and wounding at least 20 who belonged to a government-backed group that is against the rebels, police said.
The attack came on the eve of a visit to the country by US President George W. Bush and was one of the worst single acts of violence by ultra-leftists in the past three decades.
Analysts said the attack showed New Delhi could ill-afford to take the growing ultra-leftist threat lightly, saying that the rebels posed a bigger danger than Kashmiri Islamist militants.
Ultra-leftists "set off a landmine in Darmagura area in Dantewada district, killing 55 people," senior police officer S.K Paswan said, adding those killed were tribal members returning from an anti-rebel meeting organized by the state.
Some of the wounded were taken to neighbouring Andhra Pradesh state by helicopter.
Last year the local Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party government set up and started funding local anti-ultra-leftist groups in impoverished and underdeveloped areas and provided arms to some members to fight the guerrillas.
Officials said hundreds of police reinforcements had been sent to the area to search for those behind the attacks.
Darmagura, 500 kilometres south of the state capital Raipur, is a stronghold of ultra-leftists who claim to be fighting for the rights of peasants and landless labourers.
Indian ultra-leftists, who operate in at least nine of the country's 29 states, have stepped up attacks in the past year, killing dozens of people, including police. India's home ministry said there are about 9,300 ultra-leftist guerrillas operating in the country.
Security analysts say New Delhi ignores the seriousness of the ultra-leftist threat in the country at its peril.
"This is a great error of judgment and the country will pay for this for decades," said Ajai Sahni, executive director of the New Delhi-based Institute of Conflict Management.
He said ultra-leftists were already operating in 165 of the country's 602 administrative districts and expanding their influence.
Sahni criticized the federal government's dual policy of fighting the ultra-leftists through the local police while developing impoverished districts where the guerrillas derive their support, especially among poor tribes and lower castes.
"Development is not the answer for terrorism. You cannot outdevelop a terrorist movement," Sahni said, calling for a modern, well-equipped police force to tackle the rebels.
India's Home Ministry said last week ultra-leftist violence has been rising, with 892 people killed in 2005, compared to 653 in 2004.
The ultra-leftists, who often target those they consider government informers as well as landlords and local officials deemed to be corrupt, temporarily seized parts of a town in eastern Bihar state in November.
Source: China Daily