I first met Nand Kumar Patel , Nandu to all of us when he was a Sarpanch of his Nandeli village that was a part of the Kharsia Assembly constituency in Raigarh district (now Chattisgarh) in 1982. At that time, I was the Minister for Agriculture in Madhya Pradesh Government in Mr Arjun Singh's cabinet.
Laxmi Patel who was then the MLA from Kharsia was also the Chairman of Agro Industries Corporation that came under my Ministry and he had invited me for an event where Nand Kumar Patel was the host.
Though, not a Graduate, Nandu had a terrific common sense and a great political mind.
He became a MLA from Kharsia first in 1990 and since then never lost an election always winning with huge margins. He was very popular in his Constituency.
I inducted him in my Cabinet as Home Minister. He also held different Portfolios from 1993 to 2000 in Madhya Pradesh and later in Chhattisgarh till 2003.
He handled the Ministry of Home with great understanding and sensitivity.
As I was a Chief Minister without portfolio most of the contentious issues in the State Assembly were handled by him with utmost tact and political finesse. I gave him the general political line and he would assiduously stick to it taking the opposition along with him.
After the division of MP he was inducted by Ajit Jogi and served in his Cabinet with equal competence.
He was chosen to lead the Congress in the forthcoming Assembly Elections in Chattisgarh. He toured the State extensively and galvanised the party at the grass roots . Not an easy task at all !
He knew the State of Chattisgarh like the back of his palm and also knew most of the Congress workers by their first name.
He never missed an opportunity to put the BJP government on the mat both inside and outside the Assembly.
Along with Ravindra Choubey who is the CLP leader, Charan Das Mahant and Ajit Jogi they made a very formidable team and BJP was feeling the heat as the State Assembly Election drew closer.
His views on Naxalites was not that of a hawk but he always took the line that we have to win the confidence of the Tribals to fight the Naxalites
Recently when eight innocent Tribals were gunned down by Chattisgarh Police he came out strongly against the Government.
He was never openly recognized by the Naxalites as an enemy like Mahendra Karma was.
Mahendra Karma too was a great fighter and he was a Minister in my Cabinet also.
The Salwa Judum was a movement by the Tribals against the Naxalites and it could have been a very effective People's movement but it was mishandled by the BJP government. This led to Salwa Judum Activists being selectively eliminated by the Naxalites and more than 700 villages were evacuated by the Government. With Refugee camps being set up by the Government two things happened. The tribals became refuges in their own land and the government yielded the space to the Naxalites which in turn gave them total control of that region. At the same time the Salwa Judum Activists also committed atrocities on innocent Tribals and most of them went unpunished by the Administration.
Ch'garh State Congres Party had drawn up the Parivartan Yatra which was drawing huge crowds. Nand Kumar Patel decided to go to the most affected areas in South Bastar which usually were avoided.
After a very successful meeting at Sukma they were heading for Chitrakoot.
They were ambushed near Darba Police Station which was only 5 Kms away.
As the firing started Mahendra Karma came out and bravely surrendered to the Naxalites requesting them to let others go.
But the naxalites were not expecting Mahendra Karma and were looking for Nand Kumar Patel.
Now as I my pay my respects to all of them, some questions keep bothering me.
Why were they looking for Nand Kumar Patel who was apparently not a supporter of Salwa Judum and who had been consistently opposing the Police atrocities on Tribals in Bastar? Why did they kill him and his son?
Why was the 84-year old Vidya Charan Shukla shot at ?
Who is responsible for the security lapse which the Chief Minister has accepted ?
Would the CM fix responsibility and act ? Or he would hide behind the decision and wait for Judicial Commision to give its report ?
Why the Standard Operating Procedures not adopted by the Police ?
Why did it take more than 3 hours for the Police to reach the site when the police station was only 5 Kms away ?
Why was combing operation of that area not done by the Police when they had been informed by the Congress Party 10 days in advance ?
Was this attack because of Ideological reasons or just a cold blooded murder of Congress top leadership ?
These questions will have to be answered when the NIA carries out its investigation.
I salute to all those who laid down their lives in defence of Democracy .
We have to fight the Ideology of Violence and Hate with greater vigour and dedication We have to win back the trust and confidence of the Tribals who are being misled by the Naxalites.
I am sure once again the Congress would rise to the occasion and fight the menace of Left and the Right Wing Extremism with the same grit and determination that it has shown in the past.
Nand Kumar, Mahendra Karma, Uday Mudaliar and all those who were killed would always be remembered as Martyrs who have died for a cause.
May God give them peace and their families the strength to bear this irreparable loss.
Also praying for speedy recovery of Vidya Charan Shukla and all those who were injured in the incident.
I would also sincerely appeal to the Naxalites to leave the path of Violence and join the mainstream of Indian Democracy. They should take lesson from Maoists in Nepal who decided to participate in Elections and came to power. I hope wiser counsel shall prevail.