Five people were killed Tuesday in a massive roadside bomb attack on a political convoy in India, police said, just two days before voting begins in the country’s national election.
The blast tore through a vehicle carrying a local lawmaker and his security personnel in Chhattisgarh, a restive central state where Maoist rebels have been waging an armed insurgency for decades.
Police said the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) legislator Bhima Mandavi, his driver and three of his state bodyguards were killed in a “massive” explosion in a remote part of the state roughly 340 kilometres (211 miles) from the capital Raipur.
“According to our preliminary investigation, five people have died,” said P. Sundar Raj, the state’s police deputy inspector general for anti-Maoist operations.
“It was a powerful IED (improvised explosive device) blast. It left a crater on the ground.”
Another senior police officer said the explosion left the car a twisted ruin, and the bodies of some victims unrecognisable.
A second trailing vehicle was ambushed after the blast and came under heavy gunfire from guerillas hiding in the surrounding jungle, he added.
Attacks on Indian forces by jungle-based Maoist units are frequent and often deadly in Chhattisgarh, a poor and restive state.
Four soldiers were killed in an ambush there just last week.
But this strike, less than 48 hours before voting begins in India’s national poll, delivered a jolt to security as authorities prepare to hold the biggest election in history.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who hails from the same party as the slain state legislator, condemned the strike.
“My tributes to the security personnel who were martyred,” he posted on Twitter.
“The sacrifices of these martyrs will not go in vain.”
India has a history of political violence, with particular bloodshed around election time.
Armed insurgencies simmer in at least nine Indian states, from Kashmir in the snowy north to the jungles of the country’s interior, creating risky conditions for party officials and their candidates on the hustings.
Maoist groups are believed to be present in at least 20 other Indian states.
But they are most active in a forested belt of the country dubbed the “red corridor” and encompassing the states of Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Bihar, Jharkhand and Maharashtra.
The rebels often call for a boycott of polls as part of their campaign against the Indian state, and have timed past strikes with election time.
They struck in the last national election in 2014, killing seven police in a landmine attack.
The year before, 25 politicians from the Congress party were murdered in Chhattisgarh in an ambush on their convoy during regional polls.
The guerrillas, who say they are fighting for the rights of tribal groups and landless farmers, often collect funds through extortion.
The decades-old insurgency is believed to have cost tens of thousands of lives. Critics say the government’s attempts to end the revolt through a no-holds-barred military offensive are doomed to fail.