Deep inside Sukma, a cordoned-off village will vote to get out of its cagehttps://indianexpress.com/elections/deep-inside-sukma-a-cordoned-off-village-will-vote-to-get-out-of-its-cage-5667735/

Deep inside Sukma, a cordoned-off village will vote to get out of its cage

Jagargunda’s 4,000 residents, in the heart of Sukma, a symbol of the struggle between Maoists and the state where neither wants to cede control, lives in a cage. And with Lok Sabha elections in Bastar on April 11, its politics, as it has been for 15 years, is one of exclusion.

Deep inside Sukma, a cordoned-off village will vote to get out of its cage
Jagargunda is home to an estimated 4,000. (Express photo by Dipankar Ghose)

Concertina wire runs along the periphery of the village, allowing no access from outside. There are two gates, guarded by Chhattisgarh Police and CRPF, on two ends. They shut at 6 pm every evening, and open 12 hours later.

Jagargunda’s 4,000 residents, in the heart of Sukma, a symbol of the struggle between Maoists and the state where neither wants to cede control, lives in a cage. And with Lok Sabha elections in Bastar on April 11, its politics, as it has been for 15 years, is one of exclusion.

It was not always like this. Twenty years ago, Jagargunda was the pride of Bastar. Connected by road to Bijapur, Dantewada and Sukma, buses ran to the village from Jagdalpur and even Raipur, 500 km away. It had schools, electricity, even a rural bank.

Most of all, Jagargunda was the primary adivasi trading centre. It was home to one of Asia’s largest forest produce markets every week, where traders came from across the country for tamarind and mahua. Then, the war in south Sukma began in the early 2000s.

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Schools were burnt and attacks began in the village. In 2006, came Salwa Judum and most residents moved to Judum camps. The government encircled the village, laid the concertina wire and erected the gates. “I don’t want my children to grow up in this cage. Perhaps they can begin with the roads,” said Sai Naidu, a resident.

The roads to Jagargunda themselves are a theatre of war. In the centre of the village is a milestone which says Bijapur is 81 km away. Yet, security forces have been trying to resurrect the road for over a decade, and 18 km is still not motorable. The only approach road that can be used is from Dornapal, where 26 CRPF personnel were killed in the Burkapal attack.

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On Sunday, the road was lined with glittering red banners, calling for an election boycott, and Maoist press notes stuck under stones. This isolation has meant no employment, no disposable income and the lack of most basic facilities.

For close to two decades then, Jagarguda’s faith in the future has fast receded but residents say they have primarily voted for the BJP. “Simply because they have at least let us survive,” a resident said. Over the last year, slow progress has been made. There is mobile connectivity and electricity poles sprung up in the village.

The one thing that has changed this election, however, is the growing presence of Kawasi Lakhma, a tribal leader from Sukma, five-time MLA, and now Industries and Excise Minister, who has taken charge of the elections in Sukma.

For a decade no political leader had come to Jagargunda. And two weeks ago, Lakhma arrived. “He came and he promised that he would make Jagargunda the way it was again. He would bring a big market here, and build the roads. But for that he needed us to vote for the Congress,” said a local.

Not everyone agreed. “For twenty years he has been MLA. Even this is his area. Has he even come here? And when he did come, he came by helicopter, showing us his power?” said another.

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