Wednesday, Nov 26, 2014

Chhattisgarh Assembly polls: Democracy comes to Maoist heartland

Written by Ashutosh Bhardwaj | Posted: November 3, 2013 4:37 am

The battle for Bastar kicks off the battle for Delhi. And as it votes under one of the highest security covers in the country,the region that has seen the BJP rise along with the Maoists is yearning for a change from its bloody politics and its non-existent governance. Report and Photographs by Ashutosh Bhardwaj

Bastar comprises 12 seats out of Chhattisgarh’s 90. But there’s a reason that this nearly 40,000 sq km region (bigger than Kerala),covering seven districts,will kick off the electoral bout finally leading up to Delhi. It stands for the country’s fits-and-starts battle against Maoists,it stands for the Congress losing another bastion,it stands for the Left slipping in an important zone,and it will test the BJP’s claims of being tougher on extremist groups than its counterparts.

The attack that killed senior Congress leaders in May this year in Bastar district,the biggest such political blow by the Maoists in the country,was the first sign of how crucial the battle for the region would be.

There have been others since. Maoists have ordered a boycott of the polls and reportedly threatened to chop off fingers bearing the indelible ink. Political parties have urged officials to not use the ink at places,and the proposal is under consideration. The Election Commission has shifted 167 booths out from interior areas such as Abujhmaad,and campaigning in Bastar is limited to just 50 per cent of its territory.

The BJP’s win from here the last two times (nine of the 12 seats in 2003,11 in 2008),had played an important role in its victory in the state. Facing charges of a deal for peaceful co-existence with the Maoists,the party is hoping to repeat that. Still,not taking any chances,the BJP has taken out an insurance for its workers — the first-such instance of ‘electoral insurance’ in the country.

As the headquarters of India’s biggest and longest insurgency goes to polls on November 11,the security,says an IPS officer,is “unprecedented”.

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A beige Scorpio moves through a forested road in Dantewada,a pilot car in the front and a vehicle behind. There are around 20 AK-47-wielding policemen in the three vehicles. Every 300 metres,more policemen patrol the road. “Turn right,” the man in the middle suddenly orders. The muddy lane trails off deep into the forest,not known to the policemen,not part of the schedule. The man has been strictly advised to follow pre-determined routes,where road opening parties have been deployed. He,along with his mother and three younger brothers,recently received Z-plus security after Maoists killed his father. Wiping the sweat on his forehead,his personal security officer seeks a re-confirmation. He repeats,and the three vehicles are now in unknown woods.

If politics in Bastar is not for the lily-livered,Deepak Karma epitomises it. The Karmas are probably the only family in the country to have the top-most security for as many as five family members. But campaigning for his mother Devati Karma — picked as the Congress candidate from Dantewada in place of slain father Mahendra Karma — 35-year-old Deepak shrugs off the risks.

The family has lived with guns for decades. continued…

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