For the first time in decades, the Maoists have encouraged calibrated polling in some areas, instead of fanatically implementing a policy to boycott the election

The districts of Chhattisgarh partially controlled by Maoists — with 12 Assembly constituencies — voted overwhelmingly in 2013. Compared to 2008, voter turnout in 2013 increased by 9.67 percentage points in 12 constituencies, while the overall polling was 6.81 percentage points higher than in the previous election. The record rise in polling illustrates that rebel-dominated constituencies embraced the democratic process more avidly than the rest of Chhattisgarh. The rise in polling in south Chhattisgarh, where nearly 600 companies of additional paramilitaries (almost double of 2008) were posted for election, was attributed to force escalation and reduction in Maoist strength.

For the first few days after the elections, senior security officials credited the forces almost exclusively for a peaceful election. However, Director General of Police (DGP) Ram Niwas told The Hindu that the credit goes to “all sections of the society” rather than to the armed forces exclusively.

“We requested the civil society — individuals and organisations — including a few Gandhians, to ask the Maoists to exercise restraint during elections,” said the DGP. So, clearly, a record deployment of force was not the only reason for non-violent polling. Several examples illustrate how Maoists allowed calibrated polling in 12 constituencies, partly in areas controlled by them.

Higher turnout

Elengnar is a tiny village about 20 km east of the road connecting Darbha to Sukma. Last May, it was on this road that Maoists ambushed a Congress party convoy and killing its top leaders. After the attack, the police had launched search operations in and around the area and picked up several residents from Elengnar as the village is considered a Maoist stronghold.

On November 11, however, 95 residents of Elengnar marched 20 kilometres to vote in the middle school of Tahakwada situated on the Darbah-Sukma road and thus registered 20 per cent polling. At the same time, several villages located deep inside Maoist areas voted overwhelmingly. In Dornapal booths 1 to 4, on the eastern fringe of Sukma district, polling went up from 15-30 per cent to nearly 80 per cent. Places like Maraiguda or Puspal — deep inside Maoist areas — had significantly higher polling. In the Modakpal area of Bijapur, where four Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel were killed after the election, nearly 80 per cent polling was recorded.

“Like all of us, the villagers in conflict areas have two or more identities. They vote for development and keep quiet while rebels plant the mines,” said a senior police official of Bastar.

Moreover, there is enough evidence to suggest that Maoists put up their preferred candidates in the Assembly elections. While the names of such candidates are withheld for security reasons, a scrutiny of booth-wise results in Maoist strongholds underscores the presence of strong support for a few candidates.

Losing grip?

It is believed that Maoists are fading in Chhattisgarh. A decreasing number of ambushes conducted on the forces, contradictory statements from rebel leaders — simultaneously ratifying and decrying the killing of politicians — indicating fissures in the rank and file, killing of leaders and large-scale desertion of cadres in some areas, increasing frequency and intensity of security operations in base areas hitherto unexplored by the forces and the initiation of welfare programmes in Bastar division have pushed the rebels to the brink, thus resulting in a record voter turnout in Maoist country.

However, the officials who believe that the rebels are fast losing their grip also acknowledge that their military strength has grown massively over the last few years. Official documents illustrate that during the 2008 elections, Maoists had only three companies in south Chhattisgarh and 13 platoons. In 2013, the outlawed party had 12 companies and more than 25 platoons, plus a few supply platoons. They were also in the process of raising a third battalion. Eight out of 12 political-cum administrative Divisions of Dandakaranya Special Zonal Committee (DKSZC) are well in place even after a couple of divisions, like the North Telangana Special Zonal Committee, were wiped out in a police encounter.

As a result of a well-established political and military network, the Maoists still control half of at least four south Bastar districts and one-third of the rest. In Bijapur, most of the government-run welfare programmes are not allowed by the rebels in 36 of 147 gram panchayats; government officials never undertake any road construction project without tacit approval from the local commanders; tribal constables request the Maoists to protect their families in at least one third of the district and, surprisingly, polling in the same Bijapur has gone up by 15.50 percentage points!

Calibrated polling

Even then the rebels have not allowed uniform polling everywhere in Bastar division. For example, in Bijapur, 47 booths polled less than 10 votes in 2013, while 58 booths polled less than 10 in 2008. In Konta, 32 of 193 booths have polled less than 10 votes in 2013, whereas in 2008, 29 of 187 booths polled less than 10 votes. In Narayanpur, 13 of 228 booths polled less than 10 votes, while the number was six in 2008. In Dantewada, 12 booths polled less than 10 in 2013 and eight in the previous election. Several booths in bordering areas between States and the districts polled less than one per cent. In Jagdalpur, while allowing villagers of Elengnar to vote, the rebels obstructed polling in Koleng, Chhindgarh or Mundagarh in adjacent panchayats. Clearly, the rebels adopted different policies for separate booths, rather than fanatically nurturing one overarching official policy to boycott the elections.

While it could be argued that many of these booths were shifted out of the respective villages, thus reducing the poll percentage, what is puzzling is that the Maoists are adopting contradictory approaches. It is now evident that the Maoists asked the villagers to walk 15 to 20 kilometres in some of the relocated booths to exercise their franchise, like in Elengnar, while resisting polling in some other areas. From a preliminary survey of 90 per cent of south Chhattisgarh’s booths, it seems that the rebels have encouraged calibrated polling in some areas for the first time in several decades, while refusing to expose the villagers from robust base areas. So, in the final count, it could well be premature to suggest that the rebels were forced to allow polling uniformly across Bastar. The person who warned against such “misplaced notions” was Manish Kunjam, the CPI leader from Sukma.

“No one would dare to vote despite the presence of a large number of forces, unless the Maoists approve of it,” Mr. Kunjam said in a press statement soon after the election and warned against “provoking” the rebels.

Perhaps he is right. The government certainly needs another round of cooperation from the rebels to conduct another election later this year.

suvojit.bagchi@thehindu.co.in

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