The fielding of Soni Sori has divided Maoists in Bastar this time. The north regional committee of the CPI(Maoist)’s Dandakaranya Special Zonal Committee has issued a statement opposing the polls and appealing to people to boycott AAP candidate Sori, while Maoists in Darbha and Katekalyan have asked people to vote for her.
Bastar IG A D Gautam welcomes all this, saying that “irrespective of which candidate is getting Maoist support, it’s a healthy sign if they support a candidate in the democratic process”.
Maoist support is crucial here. One of Sori’s campaign managers is known to have close links with local Maoists in east Bastar. He reportedly mediates between contractors and rebels.
In neighbouring Kanker, sitting BJP MP Sohan Potai was named by an arrested contractor, Dharmendra Chopra, as having close links with the Maoists. Chopra, described as a Maoist conduit, was arrested from Potai’s vehicle when he was trying to escape towards the Raipur airport. The BJP was forced to drop Potai this election. The candidate who replaces him is former forest minister Vikram Usendi, named by the contractor as having sought Maoist support.
Says Sori, “Many prominent people have links with Maoists, seek their active support but have never been arrested. Four were arrested in the Essar case for similar charges; while two influential persons were released within months, Linga (her nephew Lingaram Kodapi) and I remained in jail for two-and-a-half years.”
The AAP says more than members of 100 NGOs have visited Bastar to campaign for Sori. While candidates of other parties could not visit interior areas, the NGO teams moved freely, without any security, and helped AAP make inroads in forests. “We did not face any resistance from anyone,” says the AAP’s Bastar convener, Anil Singh.
Besides other party candidates, Sori faces a challenge from a family member. The CPI, claiming to be the sole custodian of tribal rights, has fielded Vimla Sori, her nephew. They belong to the same village of Dantewada and have huge families. The families and the neighbourhood, however, support Vimla and not Sori.
Vimla’s sudden candidature has baffled many as the CPI had better options, especially veteran Manish Kunjam. The relatively obscure candidate is known as Sori’s cousin and can potentially dent her vote share. “I have realised in just two months that politics is very dirty, full of deceit. You never reveal your true self. It’s also the first time I have realised that tribals have lost their self-respect. At many places they asked for money. ‘What will you give us for votes?’ It’s so sad,” Sori says.
Martyrdom is another key theme here. In Congress posters, debutant candidate Deepak Karma stands with Rahul Gandhi, their deceased fathers in the background.
The BJP’s candidate, Dinesh Kashyap, was supported by Maoists in the last elections, BJP’s then Dantewada MLA Bheema Mandavi had publicly said last year. Like Deepak, Kashyap too rides his father’s legacy. Kashyap’s father Baliram established the BJP in Bastar and won the seat four times consecutively until his death in 2011.
If Karma wins, he will be the first non-BJP candidate to clinch Bastar after his father Mahendra Karma reached Parliament in the 1990s. A victory for Kashyap would ensure the seat continues to alternate between the two families, as in the last 25 years. These two powerful patriarchal families have ruled Bastar; violence happened under their nose. If politics and politicians are considered responsible for the people, then these two share the cake.