April 9, 2019 / 2:16 PM / 2 months ago

Seven dead after pre-poll attacks on Hindu leaders in two Indian states

BHUBANESWAR/SRINAGAR (Reuters) - At least seven people including a state legislator for India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) were killed in two separate attacks on Tuesday, officials said, days before India begins a general election.

Five people including BJP lawmaker Bheema Mandavi were killed in the eastern state of Chhattisgarh after Maoist militants detonated a bomb as Mandavi and his entourage were driving back from a campaign appearance, district magistrate Topeshwar Verma said.

In a separate attack, unknown gunmen burst into a hospital in the northern state of Jammu and Kashmir and killed Chandrakant Sharma, a regional leader of a Hindu group linked to the BJP, along with his bodyguard, a police official said.

Authorities imposed an indefinite curfew in the town of Kishtwar, bordering the contested Muslim-majority region of Kashmir claimed by both India and Pakistan, and sent troops to the area.

Sharma, 48, was a leader of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the influential parent organization of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP.

He was flown to a hospital at the Government Medical College in Jammu but died there, senior police officer Angrez Singh Rana said.

“He was the center of hope and trust for a patriotic society that is against terrorism,” said Manmohan Vaidya, general secretary of the RSS.

Last November, Sharma’s close associate Anil Parihar, 52, a leader of the BJP, and his brother Ajeet, 55, were also killed in Kishtwar.

The issue of Kashmir looms large in India’s multi-phase general election after a February suicide attack that killed 40 Indian paramilitary troopers was claimed by a militant group based in Pakistan.

Voting in south Kashmir, bordering the area where Sharma was killed, will happen in phases, to reduce the risk of attack by militants battling for independence from India.

Reporting by Jatindra Dash and Fayaz Bukhari; Additional reporting by Krishna Das and Devjyot Ghoshal; Writing by Alasdair Pal; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Kevin Liffey

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