Visakhapatnam: A ruling TDP MLA and a former legislator of his party were on Sunday gunned down by Maoists in Andhra Pradesh's Visakhapatnam district, police said.
In what is believed to be the first major attack on public representatives in a decade, K. Sarveswara Rao, 45, Telugu Desam Party (TDP) MLA from Araku (Reserved-Scheduled Tribe) and his party colleague and former MLA Siveri Soma, 52, were shot dead near Thutangi village, about 125 km from the coastal city of Visakhapatnam, while they were returning from a programme at a village in Araku, a tribal area.
Their car was intercepted by a group of 40-50 Maoists, including women. After snatching weapons from three security guards, they tied them along with the driver to trees. They threatened them with dire consequences if they tried to escape or resist.
Swamy, one of the security guards, later told the media that the Maoists spoke to both the leaders for nearly an hour about their involvement in mining in agency area which is reportedly threatening the livelihood of tribals.
The TDP leaders suggested that the matter could be resolved peacefully. However, an argument ensued and the Maoists opened fire on them from point-blank range, killing them on the spot. Both were shot in the head and chest.
Deputy Inspector General of Police Ch. Srikanth said that the crime occurred between noon and 1 p.m. about 15 km from the Odisha border.
Both Rao and Soma had received threats from Maoists in the past. The public representatives in the region were alerted by the police to be cautious while moving in interior villages in view of the formation week celebrations of the outlawed Communist Party of India-Maoist till September 27.
Rao was elected from Araku on a YSR Congress Party ticket in the 2014 elections by defeating Soma of the TDP. In 2016, Rao switched loyalties to the TDP.
In July this year, tribals had protested against the MLA for allegedly obtaining mining lease in the name of his brother-in-law. They had alleged that quarrying of black stones was damaging the houses of tribals at Guda village.
Deputy Chief Minister N. Chinna Rajappa said that a probe will be conducted to ascertain as to how Maoists managed to attack the two leaders despite the fact that their activities were under control for the last 4-5 years.
The CPI-Maoist was believed to have considerably weakened in its former stronghold on the Andhra-Odisha border in recent years following intensive police operations by both the states.
Following the killings, police went on high alert in Andhra-Odisha border area and public representatives were advised not to visit interior villages.
Senior police officials reviewed the situation. Additional forces including personnel of anti-Maoist force Greyhounds were rushed to the region for combing operations.
Tension prevailed in Araku constituency as relatives and supporters of slain leaders attacked two police stations.
Accusing the police of "failing" to protect the public representatives, the protestors ransacked Araku and Dumbriguda police stations and set afire to the furniture and other articles.
When police tried to disperse the protestors at Dumbriguda, they vent their ire on policemen, injuring one constable. Other policemen ran away to escape from the mob fury.
Some people again staged a protest at the police station with the bodies of Rao and Soma. They claimed that the police had not reached the scene even four hours after the crime.
Senior officials rushed to the spot and pacified the protestors.
Chief Minister and TDP chief N. Chandrababu Naidu expressed shock over the killings. Naidu, who is currently visiting the United States, in a message condemned the killings and conveyed his condolences to the bereaved families.
The Telugu Desam Party (TDP) said that such attacks and killings are a "scar on humanity".
The Chief Minister directed senior Cabinet colleague Kala Venkatrao to rush to the district.