Between the two distant roads, 41-year-old Mandavi’s difficult journey from a poor family to the Chhattisgarh state assembly was cut short abruptly on Tuesday in a Maoist-triggered explosion which left a crater as deep as eight feet and the entire Maoist-infested Dantewada in grief and shock.
At Kuakonda, villagers and television crews on Wednesday morning were still rummaging through the blood-stained foliage of the deciduous trees and splattered pieces of the bullet-proof Scorpio and torn garments and shoes, some of which flew as far as 100 meters.
One of the villagers who did not want to be named told the TOI that around a group 40 to 50 armed Maoists had arrived a few days ago at a fair, a kilometer away from the IED explosion site. The attack was planned by Chetu and Deva of the Odisha’s Malkangiri committee of CPI(Maoists), he claimed.
Another villager said the landmine that weighed around 50 kilos of explosives seemed to have been fitted in the last few days since both sides of the road were dug up for its widening six months ago. The mark of a long wire, starting from a small rock near the bushes, 50 meters away from the road, to the crater, is still visible at the site. Just a few steps away, empty cartridges of bullets fired after the attack are still lying around.
A CRPF officer told TOI that because of the loose soil on its sides, the road is so prone to attacks that the paramilitary uses cross-country routes and every government vehicle is prohibited from taking it.
Mandavi who was traveling with four cops in his bullet-proof Scorpion, on the last day of electioneering for the first phase poll in Bastar Lok Sabha constituency, had refused to follow the advice of the local police on Tuesday. “He went to the fair and stayed there for half an hour or more. By that time, the Maoist informers at the fair sent out a word about his movement and the route he was taking,” a top police official said adding that he was the target of the attack rather than the forces in other vehicles ahead of and behind him.
A top local official said Mandavi, a tribal, from a poor family who educated himself, grew up and lived among Naxalites and was overconfident that they wouldn’t harm him. “His uncle who passed a few years ago, used to be a Naxalite too and had been his protector in a way,” he said.
A villager said Mandavi was on the hit list of Maoists ever since he played a role in ‘salwa judum’ movement against Naxalites. Incidentally, Mandavi defeated Congress’ Mahendra Karma, who was the main architect of salwa judum, in 2008 assembly elections and his widow in the 2018 polls.
At his poverty-ridden village home in Gadapal, where hundreds of tribals from several villagers and political workers from BJP’s Dantewada office had gathered, Mandavi’s relatives and family were inconsolably distraught. His old parents and four small children—three daughters and a son— surrounded his numb wife who’s ‘sindoor’ was smudged as per the tradition.
“I don’t know what to think,” Mandavi’s wife, Ojasvi sobbed. Her husband, she said, had dreams for his people and wanted to serve them. Mandavi’s eldest daughter, Deepa, an 11th standard student, said her father wanted her to be a doctor but now she didn’t know what to do without him. Her swollen eyes from incessant crying, filled up with tears.
While tribal women howled, indigenous drum beats echoed through the village. Both ruling party and opposition leaders paid tributes to Mandavi whose blood-smeared face was visible from the glass-casket, wrapped in tricolour and marigold, in which he was brought home.
Outside the village, people said they were determined to defy the Maoist threats and vote decisively tomorrow.