Former Andhra Pradesh chief minister N. Janardhan Reddy and his wife, state minister N. Rajyalakshmi, escaped unhurt in a landmine blast triggered by suspected Maoist guerrillas that killed three people in Nellore district early Friday.
Two workers of the ruling Congress party and a driver were killed and five others were injured in the attack on the minister's convoy near Kovada village in Nellore district, about 550 km from here.
Janardhan Reddy, who is a senior Congress leader and a Member of Parliament from Visakhapatnam was going to Tirupati with his Rajyalakshmi, who is minister for women development and child welfare in the state.
Police said as soon as the convoy of 21 vehicles reached a small bridge near the village, the Maoists triggered the landmine. The couple's car was the third vehicle in the convoy. Seconds after it had crossed the bridge, the landmine exploded, destroying the car behind them and killing three people.
Janardhan Reddy, who served as the chief minister from 1990 to 1992, had imposed a ban on then Communist Party of India Marxist Leninist People's War Group (CPI-ML PWG) in 1992.
The 77-year-old leader was on the hit list of the extremists for the ban and his tough handling of the Maoist insurgency. He had escaped an attempt on his life in 2003 when police defused a landmine minutes before he was to pass through a road in Nalgonda district.
Friday's attack took place around 6.45 a.m. when Janardhan Reddy and his wife were going to the temple town of Tirupati to receive honorary doctorate from Sri Venkateshwara University.
The blast was so severe that his Ford car was fractured into several pieces. Mangled remains of the vehicle and pieces of human flesh were strewn all around the bridge and were found several metres away from the scene.
Immediately after the blast, some policemen accompanying the convoy escorted Janardhan Reddy and his wife to a safe place. The couple was shocked but did not sustain any injuries. They later cancelled their visit to Tirupati and returned to their house in Nellore town.
Grey Hounds, the elite anti-Maoist force, launched combing operations in the area to track down the extremists. Local policemen also joined the force in conducting large-scale searches immediately after the attack.
Cutting short his visit to Kadpa district, Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy rushed to the state capital and held a high-level meeting to review the situation.
Condemning the attack, Home Minister K. Jana Reddy told newsmen in Hyderabad that the preliminary investigations showed that it was the handiwork of Maoists. 'Our information shows Maoists were keeping a tab on Mr Janardhan Reddy's movements,' he said.
The attack on Janardhan Reddy is one of the biggest strikes on top leaders by Communist Party of India (Maoist), who were lying low for the last two years after several of their top leaders were killed in recent months.
In the biggest attack so far, the Maoists had made a bid on the life of then Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu in 2003 near Tirupati. Naidu, who was blamed for the killing of hundreds of Maoists during his tenure (1995-2004), escaped with minor injuries.
The last major strike by the Maoists was on August 15, 2005 when they gunned down Congress legislator C. Narsi Reddy and five others.
In 1999, the Maoists had killed then Panchayat Raj minister A. Madhava Reddy in a landmine blast at Ghatkesar near here. Madhava Reddy, as home minister in the earlier cabinet, had also adopted a tough policy towards the Maoists.
The Maoist violence in the state has claimed more than 6,000 lives since 1969.