Raipur, Chhattisgarh – A roadside bomb planted by suspected Maoist rebels has killed five people, including a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) legislator, in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh, according to police.
The explosion on Tuesday came just two days before polling begins in India‘s general elections.
Bhima Mandavi, a BJP member of legislative assembly (MLA), was passing through Nakulnar village after a campaign event in Bade Bacheli town when his vehicle drove over a mine “laid out earlier by suspected Maoist rebels”, Sundar Raj P, a senior state police official, said.
Four members of security forces were also killed.
Police Superintendent for Dantewada district Abhishek Pallav said that security forces had warned Mandavi that the road was unsafe but he had opted to take the route regardless.
Mandavi, 41, was a popular tribal leader, who managed to retain his seat even after the opposition Congress party won 11 out of the 12 seats in the Bastar region of Chhattisgarh in the legislative assembly elections in November last year.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi condemned the blast, describing Mandavi as a diligent and courageous worker.
“He assiduously served the people of Chhattisgarh. His demise is deeply anguishing,” Modi said in a Twitter post, which also paid tribute to the slain security force members.
Shri Bhima Mandavi was a dedicated Karyakarta of the BJP. Diligent and courageous, he assiduously served the people of Chhattisgarh. His demise is deeply anguishing. Condolences to his family and supporters. Om Shanti.
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) April 9, 2019
‘Diligent and courageous worker’
The incident comes days after suspected Maoist rebels, who have waged war for decades against what they call expropriation of their resources, killed five paramilitary personnel in two separate attacks in the state.
The rebels have asked local residents to boycott the upcoming polls in the states of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Maharashtra.
“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,” Vikalp, the spokesman for Dandakaranya Special Zonal Committee of the Maoists, said in a statement to Al Jazeera on Friday.
After Tuesday’s blast, Chhattisgarh’s Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel convened an emergency meeting at his house with top officials, including state’s Director General of Police DM Awasthi.
“It is a tragic incident and it is an attack on democracy,” Baghel said. “Our government will deal with such incidents strictly. I have ordered officers that Maoist bullets should be answered in their language.”
“When [a] public representative is not safe, then what about the common public? It’s a political conspiracy, why only our leader was killed,” asked Raman Singh, a former chief minister and BJP member of the legislative assembly.
The BJP demanded the cancellation of the upcoming polls in the area. But Chief Election Officer Subrato Sahu dismissed the request. He said that local security arrangements will be strengthened.
Tens of thousands of security forces have been deployed to defeat the Maoist rebels. According to government figures, the Maoist threat has decreased in central and eastern India in recent years.
The latest incident of violence has spread fear among the people of Chhattisgarh, according to political analyst Vikram Singhal, who argued that the attack will create panic among tribal voters and have an effect on the voting.