35 killed in India as bus hits roadside bomb

The blast from a roadside bomb ripped apart a bus filled with police officers and civilians in central India on Monday, killing at least 35 people, authorities said.

The 4:15 p.m. bombing occurred in the Dantewada district of Chhattisgarh, a mineral-rich state that had been the site of fierce fighting between Maoist rebels and government forces in recent months.

Police said the explosion killed at least 19 civilians and 16 police officers, though other sources placed the death toll as high as 50. The same area saw an attack last month that killed 76 police officers.

No one took responsibility for the blast. But India’s home minister, Palaniappan Chidambaram, blamed it on the Maoists. “They simply kill and then find a reason to justify their killing,” he said on the local news channel NDTV.

Home Secretary G.K. Pillai said the targeting of civilians represented a new tactic for rebels, suggesting they were losing popular support.

Chidambaram said the government shared the blame for the decades-long insurgency. “There are police excesses,” he said. “Government has to answer when human rights are violated deliberately.”

Furthermore, he said, officials had underestimated the problem: “We let it fester for 10 years.”

Television images showed the bus completely destroyed, its rear half standing almost vertically, with at least seven bodies lying on the road, including two men in camouflage and a woman whose face was covered by her sari.

Maoist rebels, concentrated in some of India’s poorest states, have won support from the poor, especially landless peasants, who are angry over local corruption, weak governance and the growing wealth gap. Despite India’s high economic growth rates, vast numbers have not seen any improvement in their lives.

Maoists operate in 20 of India’s 28 states and have from 10,000 to 20,000 fighters, according to the Home Ministry.

Chidambaram said the government had been resistant in the past, but that he hoped to see the air force operate sorties in Maoist-controlled areas.

“I don’t use the word ‘war,’ ” Chidambaram added. “I have never used it, and I don’t like using it. It is a challenge and a very serious challenge.”