Debating India


They Mine Their Quarry

Faizan AHMAD

Monday 26 April 2004, by AHMAD*Faizan

Democratic right for the Naxals is to stymie the polls.

-  Red extremists burn down poll offices of the Congress, JD(U) and even the CPI(ML), and ransack campaign offices of the BSP and SP in Gaya’s Dumaria block.

-  Campaign vehicles of the Congress candidate in Aurangabad and of the JD(U)’s in Jehanabad are torched, its occupants let off only after their heads are tonsured.

-  Activists campaigning in several Jharkhand constituencies are detained and tortured by extremists. Villagers warned of dire consequences if they go out to vote. Amid calls of poll boycott issued by the dreaded Naxal groups Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) and the CPI-ML (People’s War), better known as PW, in the plains of central Bihar and in the plateau and jungles of Jharkhand, these incidents were simply trailers. The deadliest strike came last fortnight when Naxals landmined several police vehicles and lobbed grenades, killing 27 cops in the Saranda forest range.

As the polls draw closer, in large pockets of Jharkhand-its hills and jungles being the perfect guerrilla topography-Naxals are preparing to ratchet up their war. Ask villagers of Bishunpur in Gumla just how bad things are and they point at the police station and block offices, hidden behind walls of sandbags. Right from Bishunpur to Sirsi and up to Netarhat, there are no signs of impending elections: no flags, no graffiti, no campaigning. The Birjia tribals will show you the cratered road; contractors ran away for fear of the extremists. In Sirsi, locals admit that partywallahs (Naxalites) run a parallel administration.

Harish, a sub-zonal commander of the MCC in Gumla and Lohardagga, says the boycott will be implemented with all might. He identifies Palamu, Singhbhum, Lohardagga, Gumla, Giridih, Hazaribagh, Chatra and Bokaro as their principal targets. Says he: "It’s our democratic right to boycott polls and overthrow the blood-sucking system." The PW is more straight-forward: "The NDA partners won’t be allowed to campaign. The BJP is a fascist party. They will be attacked and candidates will be stripped." An MCC activist claims that in a byelection to Bihar’s Barachatti assembly seat held in November, not a single voter turned up at 28 polling stations, 25 votes were cast at eight booths and three poll personnel were shot.

The CPI(ML)-Liberation-the largest Naxal faction that broke with its violent past in ’92 to come overground and which had an MP in the dissolved Lok Sabha-charge the other factions with cutting secret deals with the RJD and that the boycott call is meant to help its candidates. (The Liberation group, involved in a bitter turf war with the underground ML factions in eastern UP, Bihar and Jharkhand, has often been the latter’s target. The PW and MCC accuse their one-time fellow-traveller, the Liberation, of deviation and of acquiescing to the mainstream.)

Jharkhand chief minister Arjun Munda concedes that Naxalism is a serious problem. Says he: "In eight or nine districts, the situation is grave." But he refuses to talk about the possible anti-terrorism measures. Of the 17,022 polling stations, over 12,000 have been marked as sensitive. Around 100 paramilitary companies will be deployed on poll days and aerial survey of Naxal-affected regions, including 700 sq km of the Saranda forest range, will be also be conducted. Both the MCC and PW have also called a general bandh in Bihar and Jharkhand on poll days. But here’s a piece of supreme irony: a former zonal commander, Chetanji alias Veer Bhagat, is in the poll arena as an independent from Chatra, a Naxalite hotbed.


in Outlook India, Monday, April 26, 2004.

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