Police’s weapons failed to fire when it mattered

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 JAGDALPUR: Chhattisgarh policemen were betrayed by their flawed weapons when Maoists ambushed a Congress convoy in Bastar on Saturday, killing at least 28 people including Salwa Judum founder Mahendra Karma and state Congress chief Nand Kumar Patel.

Raju Toppo, a 30-year-old policeman assigned with Patel’s security protocol, said his self-loading rifle (SLR) got stuck after three shots. Toppo is recovering from a gunshot injury at the district hospital. Sources said the weapons of a few other policemen also got stuck during counter-firing. Up to nine policemen were killed in the ambush.

Toppo told TOI in an exclusive interview that after his SLR failed to fire despite repeated attempts he ran inside the forest along with Patel and his son. “I took them to a safe place after my weapon stopped firing,” he said. “Unfortunately, I failed to save their lives.” Toppo hid his jammed weapon inside the vehicle they were travelling in before moving out.

Patel asked Toppo to move away from him and his son, saying a policeman’s presence could cause further risk to their lives. “Tum chale jao yehan se nahin tho hum bhi mare jayenge (You go away from here or else we too will be killed,” Patel apparently ordered him. Toppo did as told: he moved aside and lay on the ground pretending to be dead.

Six Maoists, led by a woman, located their hideout after a while. “Nand Kumar Patel kon hey? (Who is Nand Kumar Patel?)?” one of them said. After the Congress chief raised his hand, they took him deeper into the jungle. “I heard a shot,” Toppo said. “Patel was killed. They came back, took his son and killed him too.” Patel’s son, Dinesh, was hit with a blunt object on his head.

Toppo said there were several female members in the gang, and most of them were speaking Gondi. The other members took orders from the woman leader before killing the politicians.

The Maoists left Toppo for dead. He remained motionless for two hours — and lived to tell the tale.

The weapon of Karma’s PSO too is said to have packed up. The PSO, who sustained a gunshot injury, was found on a hillock on Sunday evening. He was being brought to Jagdalpur when reports last came in.

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