A Congress leader, who was with former Union minister Vidyacharan Shukla during the Naxal attack in Chhattisgarh on Saturday, has claimed that the ambush specifically targeted state Congress chief Nand Kumar Patel and senior leader Mahendra Karma, both of whom died in the strike.
"Both Patel and Karma were the target of Naxals," said Daulat Rohra, Congress leader and a close aide of Shukla.
Shukla has been critically injured and is being treated in a hospital in Gurgaon.
Rohra, who was travelling in an SUV with Shukla and his Personal Security Officer Praphulla Sharma, said Naxals had already opened fire when the convoy of Congress leaders reached Jiram valley at about 4 pm.
Shukla told others, including the driver, to crouch but he himself was hit by four bullets.
"Suddenly, firing stopped and ultras approached the vehicles, asking for Nand Kumar Patel and Mahendra Karma," Rohra said.
"They started searching every vehicle, calling out the names of Patel and Karma, asking them to step out," he added.
At this point, former Member of Legislative Assembly Uday Mudaliyar, several other leaders and policemen were killed in gunfire.
"One by one, they dragged everyone out of the vehicles. One group of Naxals took away Patel, his son Dinesh Patel and Dantewada MLA Kawasi Lakhma some distance into the jungle, but they released Lakhma later.
“They also started asking for Mahendra Karma's son but when Karma himself came out of the group and revealed his identity, they took him aside and shot him dead, pumping in nearly 50 rounds," said Rohra.
"Afterwards, Naxals fled into the forests, shouting Lal Salaam,” he said.
Some local reporters reached the spot after a long interval and carried away some of the injured, Rohra said.
Shukla's PSO Sharma was already dead, but Naxals still cut his right hand off before leaving, he said.
"As they had released Lakhma, I thought they must have released Patel and his son too. But in the morning, I was shocked to hear the news of their death," Rohra said.
Meanwhile, bodies of Patel and his son were airlifted to his native village Nandeli in Raigarh district, while the body of Karma was taken to his home district Dantewada.
The final rites of Uday Mudaliyar were performed in his hometown Rajnandgaon with complete state honours.
Photograph: Mahendra Karma