Raipur, Chhattisgarh – Suspected Maoist rebels have killed five paramilitary personnel in two separate attacks in India‘s state of Chhattisgarh days before the region votes in general elections.
One soldier was killed on Friday in a gunfight in the forests of Salehghat in Dhamtari district, while four troops from the Border Security Force (BSF) were killed in Kanker district on Thursday.
The attacks have raised security concerns before a scheduled election rally on Saturday by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Deputy Inspector General of Police Sundar Raj P told Al Jazeera that security forces started massive operation against the Maoists in the forests of Salehghat on Friday morning after getting a tip-off.
“There was heavy firing from both sides. One paramilitary soldier was killed in the incident,” the officer said.
Bhupesh Baghel, who took over as the chief minister of the mineral-rich state four months ago, blamed the previous Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government for the rise of Maoist influence. Modi’s Hindu nationalist BJP ruled the state for 15 years.
Tens of thousands of security forces have been deployed to defeat the Maoist rebels, who have waged a guerrilla war for decades against what they call expropriation of their resources.
Maoist threat or “left-wing extremism” in central and eastern parts of India – home to about 84 million indigenous people – has decreased in recent years, according to government figures.
“Our government is trying to remove the distress of tribal areas of the state. Immediately after coming to power, we have returned the land of tribal [people] acquired by Tata for the industry,” Baghel told Al Jazeera.
“The minimum support price of Tendu leaves has been hiked to Rs 4,000 [$57] from the old rate of Rs 2,500 [$36],” he said.
The chief minister said that his government has formed a committee under the chairmanship of a retired Supreme Court judge to look into the cases registered against tribal people.
“After undergoing so many welfare works for tribals, if Maoists are opting violence, then they are against the development of tribals,” Baghel told Al Jazeera.
State police and paramilitary forces have intensified operations as the Maoist rebels have threatened to boycott the elections. Voting will be held in three phases in the state – April 11, 18 and 23.
In a statement sent to Al Jazeera, the spokesman for Dandakaranya Special Zonal Committee of the Maoists, Vikalp, has urged voters to boycott the polls.
“… On the whole Modi’s good days are for Ambani and Adani etc,” the statement says referring to the country’s leading industrialists considered close to the prime minister.
“People are being misled by making excuses for development… The solution of the problems of public is not the election, the struggle is the only way. So, we have given a slogan for election boycott,” the statement said.