Maoist attacks during elections are expected. The state cannot afford any unguarded moments.
Maoists in Chhattisgarh have killed teachers, medical personnel and civilians, along with security forces, with two separate blasts near Bijapur and Darbha. While such ambushes are expected during elections, Saturday’s attacks were unusual in their targeting of ordinary people. Reports from Darbha — the site of three of the biggest Maoist attacks of the last 11 months — also underscore a grim pattern of security forces being rendered vulnerable because of their own errors.
Predictably, Maoists have been attempting to intimidate people into boycotting the election or using the NOTA option if they vote. Districts like Bastar saw a relatively lower turnout of 52 per cent this Lok Sabha election, a decline from the assembly elections held last November. This despite the extensive precautions taken by the Election Commission, the staggered phases of polling and the heavy presence of paramilitary forces. Maoists have opened fire on security forces in at least eight polling booths, and planted improvised explosive devices in several locations.
The ferocity of these attacks makes it clear that desperation has set in among the Maoists. The assembly election turnout reached 67 per cent, and affirmed that for the most part, citizens are deeply invested in electoral democracy and the solutions it provides, and that this right is exercised with even greater commitment by those lower down the social and economic ladder. Even after years of organised violence and propaganda in the poorest, most remote regions of the country, the Maoists have not been able to turn the mood in their favour or inculcate a radical distrust of the Indian state.
Last year, the CPI (Maoist) Central Committee, the highest decision-making bo-dy of the guerrilla organisation, had admitted that its strength had been considerably depleted in terms of human resources, arms and supplies, and most importantly, intellectual support and solidarity. It admitted that its project has foundered also because of actions like the abduction of hard-working district administrators who have demonstrated that the state can be on the same side as the people. If the state makes progress on delivering rights to livelihood, provides a responsive administration and empowers panchayats, it could not but reduce these Maoist predations. But it must first provide a sense of tangible safety. In failing to anticipate and thwart these attacks during elections, the state has set itself back.