Desperate to disrupt the recently held Assembly elections in Chhattisgarh, the Maoists had to bite the dust in their own guerrilla bases. The elections boycott call issued by the CPI (Maoist) neither had any major impact on the people willing to cast their vote nor on disrupting elections by means of violence. For this time, the security forces — having increased their reach in the past five years by establishing new camps in the forward areas — had an upper hand in ensuring the peaceful conduct of elections in the State.
Security forces and the Maoist formations
Chhattisgarh has 14 districts affected by Left-Wing Extremism (LWE) activities; all of them are included in the Security Related Expenditure (SRE) Scheme of the MHA [Ministry of Home Affairs] and given financial grants on various counts. Though the total number of such districts under this scheme reduced from 90 in 11 States in April 2018 to 70 in 10 States in June 2021, the total number of affected districts in Chhattisgarh remained the same, i.e. 14. Five battalions of the CRPF allotted to Chhattisgarh (in addition to the 44 battalions already deployed) since the last Assembly elections in 2018, and the redeployment of many companies resulted in the establishment of no less than 75 new security camps in the SRE districts, mostly in the Bastar region. In addition, the recently recruited Bastar Fighters force of more than 2,000 local youth (including 460 women) from seven districts of the Bastar range also helped in securing the votes and keeping the Maoists at bay.
Whereas all seven districts of the Bastar range and (south) Rajnandgaon fall under the influence of the Dandkarnaya Special Zone (DKSZ); North Rajnandgaon, Kabirdham and Mungeli district of Chhattisgarh under the Maharashtra-Madhya Pradesh-Chhattisgarh (MMC) Special Zone; and Gariyaband, Dhamtari and Mahasamund districts, which border Odisha, fall under the influence of the Odisha State Committee of the banned CPI (Maoist). One district — Balrampur (in North Chhattisgarh) — which borders Jharkhand is partly affected by the Koel-Shankh Zone of the Jharkhand Regional Committee (of the Bihar-Jharkhand Special Area Committee). While the MMC Zone is comparatively new, the Maoists have been active in DK since the 1980s.
The ‘Strategy and Tactics of the Indian Revolution’ document of the CPI (Maoist) clearly says that since “there is no objective basis in India for exposing the parliamentary system from within, it can be best done by direct propaganda and organising the people against the parliamentary and election system on the basis of election boycott slogan”.
With this security scenario in the backdrop and the Maoist strategy in place, it will be relevant to see the effect of the Maoist diktat of boycott on the Assembly elections.
Better and safer polling in interior areas
The Maoists went by their rule book and issued pamphlets, painted some walls and hung banners to boycott the Assembly elections in the LWE-affected areas. In nine SRE districts (including seven severely affected districts), the elections for 20 Assembly seats were held in the first phase on November 7 and in the rest of the districts for 70 seats (including five SRE districts) on November 17. The first phase was crucial from the LWE point of view. With the number of polling booths increased (by 126) and relocated booths decreased (by 44) in the Bastar range, the challenge for security forces was bigger and that too in the southern districts of Sukma, Dantewada and Bijapur where the Maoists claimed the Revolutionary People’s Councils (RPCs) i.e., Jantana Sarkars to be more influential in putting the boycott in effect in previous elections.
In Sukma (one of the worst affected districts), the polling registered an overall increase of about 8% (from about 55% to about 63%). In all interior locations such as Minapa, Elmagunda, Karigundam and Pongabheji (Maoists threatened to cut the hands of people who went to vote) where the Maoist military formations’ presence was prominent and the voting used to be negligible, the voting percentage this time varied from 40% to 60%. Though many IEDs were recovered by the security forces in the district, one jawan got injured near Elmagunga by an IED blast and two jawans got injured in firing near Minapa.
In Dantewada (with an increase of 14 new polling booths), not only did the polling percentage increase by more than 9%, relocation of booths reduced by two-thirds (i.e., from 21 to 7). In Potali village, where the Maoists (in the guise of villagers) protested the establishment of the security camp in 2021 tooth and nail for quite some time, the polling percentage was about 45% (against about 1% in the 2018 elections). There are examples of more such polling booths. The security forces recovered a couple of IEDs and no untoward incident happened during the polls this time.
In Bijapur, though many new booths came up in forward areas such as Galgam, Bechapal, Pusnar and Tarrem, the overall voting remained almost the same i.e. about 48.4%. The shifting of booths and the number of helicopter sorties to carry polling parties came down considerably. The security forces successfully thwarted all attempts to cause disruption, including the gherao of a polling booth at village Padeda by the Maoists. A number of IEDs and spikes were recovered by the security forces from different locations but one sub-inspector got injured while detecting a camouflaged spikes-hole near a polling booth.
Similarly, Narayanpur, which constitutes a major part of the Abujhmaad and where many Central Committee members (CCMs) of the CPI (Maoist) take shelter, registered a marginal increase in polling (from 74.88% to 75.06%). Here, too, IEDs were recovered but one jawan sustained a minor injury in an IED blast.
While two jawans were killed (one each in Kanker and Gariyaband district) in the IED blasts (and one BJP office bearer of Narayanpur was killed by the Maoists) and one AK-47 was also recovered by the security forces in Kanker, the elections were free from disruption in all SRE districts. The voters had to travel shorter distances with reduced shifting and many new booths near their native villages.
The boycott call by the Maoists has fewer takers now. Though the overall polling in the first phase increased by about 1.5% (from 76.5% to 78%), more people came forward to cast their votes in the guerrilla bases. This negates the Maoists’ claim that villagers are politically motivated by their ideology and don’t cast votes on their own. The lip service done by the Maoists’ RPCs have failed to bind villagers with their blood-soaked ideology. If the security vacuum that still exists in some pockets of Bastar is filled up with security and administrative machinery, the day is not far when the boycott call will lose ground in toto.
R.K. Vij is a retired Indian Police Service officer. Views are personal.