On Monday, south Chhattisgarh -- large swathes of which are Maoist strongholds -- goes to polls amidst some of the heaviest security seen in the country. Among the candidates whose fate will be decided in this first phase is CM Raman Singh.
Some 50 policemen armed with automatics were providing protection at the election meeting in Ganjnarh, a medium-sized hamlet not far from Dantewada town. The villagers were listening to Deepak Karma, the elder son of slain Congress leader, Mahendra Karma.
Speaking in Gondi, Mr. Karma kept harping on the martyrdom of his father, the founder of the vigilante movement Salwa Judum.
The Karma campaign
Deepak Karma said that his father had given his life to save his community, the Dandami Marias of south Chhattisgarh. Deepak was campaigning for his mother, Devati Karma, the Congress candidate of Dantewada. But unfortunately, neither Deepak Karma nor his mother can venture far beyond the town — they need police permission to do that.
The control room of the Superintendent of Police’s office calls up to ask the policemen at the meeting how Ms. Karma’s entourage could go out of town to campaign.
“We are campaigning and not standing in a criminal’s box to be monitored all the time,” complained Mr. Karma, while his mother nodded in agreement. But Mr. Karma sounded optimistic when asked about the number of polling agents he has — a marker of how strong a candidate is in that constituency. He said they may be able to put up agents in all the 266 booths of his mother’s constituency. “We will cover all booths,” he said.
Not very confident
The BJP candidate, Bhima Mandavi, the sitting MLA of Dantewada constituency, is far less confident about the placement of agents. “We cannot put up polling agents in more than 150 booths,” he said.
Mr. Mandavi further said that even while he has done sufficient booth-level management and visited much of his constituency, putting up agents is a different ball-game.
Moreover, the police requested Mr. Mandavi not to visit areas outside the control of security forces.
Mr. Mandavi says: The SP told me. Sir, please do not get featured in the national news, as they (Maoists) will fire on you as soon as you step in the forest areas.”
While the candidates complain about the high-handedness of security officials who stopped them from visiting remote areas, the Director General of Police (DGP) Ram Niwas say the fault lay with the candidates.
“They can go anywhere, provided they give advance notice. The notice should be given early, depending on the area to be visited and kilometres to be covered. We cannot arrange security if notices are delivered at the eleventh hour,” the DGP said.
However a collector of south Chhattisgarh was more caustic about the claims of the candidates. “How many times do you think these candidates have visited their constituencies in Maoist areas in last five years.
Honestly a number of them do not know all their booths, so these allegations are baseless,” said the collector, on condition of anonymity.
The Communist Party of India (CPI), however, is doing well as far as campaigning in remote locations is concerned. “Yes we are managing to travel on road, even up to Jagargunda, which is an area partially controlled by both the rebels and the Salwa Judum,” said the CPI district secretary of Sukma, Rama Sodi.
Veteran CPI leader Chittaranjan Bakshi put up the Election Commission’s notice on his windshield and a CPI flag on the hood of his white SUV and campaigned for a day inside the villages of eastern Dantewada. No one stopped him, though he was questioned by unarmed militias.
Local CPI cadres hope that this allowance will translate into support in the ballot box. The CPI is hoping to bag at least one-third of the seats going to polls in the first phase.
The cadres hope that the banned Maoists will tacitly support their party’s candidates just as in West Bengal where the Maoists supported Mamata Banerjee in 2011.
“But the rebels do not care for a Left party as much as they loved a bourgeois party in Bengal,” said a CPI activist in Jagdalpur.