Seven districts in the southern part of the State are going to the polls on November 11
Chittaranjan Bakshi, the veteran Communist Party of India (CPI) leader, had a harrowing time last weekend.
One of the company commanders of 111 battalion of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), offered him a cup of sugary tea and requested him not to disembark from the elevated camp ground to the forest, apprehending serious trouble for Mr. Bakshi, once he crossed the boundaries of the camp.
“Sir, you are going to ask for votes in an area where a call to boycott the poll has been announced and this would mean risking your life,” the officer pleaded. Mr. Bakshi tried to calm him, saying that he had entered many conflict areas in the country unharmed.
It took a quarter of an hour to convince the commander that it was unlikely that anyone would waste bullets on an unarmed septuagenarian and Communist politician like him. Finally, the campaigners were allowed to enter the villages under complete control of the Maoists, but only after the officer spoke to his boss.
Such is the fear in seven districts of southern Chhattisgarh, which are scheduled to go to the polls on November 11. The Central and State governments and the Election Commission of India (ECI) are working over time for a violence-free election, deploying 600 companies of central paramilitary forces phase-wise, in addition to nearly 60,000 security personnel already garrisoned in south Chhattisgarh.
108 paramilitary units in Sukma
In Sukma district alone, 108 paramilitary companies are posted, in addition to the existing 45 companies. Moreover, a few thousand State forces are stationed here. While the situation is no different in the rest of the six districts, the administration has no clue to the unidentified people who are sticking red and blue posters on every other tree, outside the main cities asking people to boycott the election. After months of negotiation, the ECI decided to shift 167 of 2,562 booths in south Chhattisgarh.
Interestingly, the ECI has not asked the State administration to transport the electors from their villages to the re-located booths, which are five to fifteen kilometres away from their homes.
“The villagers always travel those extra kilometres to pick up subsidised food or for other purposes,” said Chief Electoral Officer Sunil Kujur. However, since the booths are being shifted for the first time in an Assembly election, no one has an idea if the villagers would walk several kilometres to vote.
“But then again if you keep the booths in the Maoist areas, no one would vote either,” said a senior police officer on condition of anonymity. He is surely right as the three villages, visited by Mr. Bakshi, polled 17 votes in 2008, while the total votes were nearly 3000.
As Mr. Bakshi’s vehicle crossed the border of the Aranpur camp and entered a field bound by the Bailadila mountain range on both sides, a man with a black scarf wrapped around like a balaclava, appeared from nowhere and gave a red salute, asking the CPI cadres to stop the car. The man in his mid-20s, clearly a member of the Maoists’ jan-militia, questioned the CPI cadres in Gondi and allowed passage.
After entering the villages, Mr. Bakshi religiously tried to convince the residents why they should vote for the CPI. While distributing the party manifesto, he stated that the party was very strong in these areas and “much like the Maoists” believed in people’s causes.
“Seven of our 16 demands are similar to Maoists,” Mr. Bakshi said. The villagers listened silently, took the pamphlet and finally Arim Madkam, the Upe-sarpanch or deputy chief of the Bargum Panchayat of Dantewada, whispered: “Dadalog [the big brothers or Maoists] have not told us anything so far but they will before the elections…will vote accordingly.” He, however, said that most of the people in the village have received the voter card for the first time and “may not mind” voting if the Maoists allow them and the booths are not re-located.