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Naidu and the BJP feels the PW’s anti-electoral heat


Monday 26 April 2004, by CHOUDHARY *Savitri

As polling looms, TDP members-from grassroots workers up to the top leadership-are nervously glancing over their shoulders. The PW has already made it clear it’s determined to prevent the TDP-BJP combine from returning to power in Andhra.

Almost 30 politicians, mostly grassroots cadre, have been killed since the start of the year. Twenty-seven belonged to the TDP alone, one to the BJP and two to the Congress. In fact, it’s been all-out war since the PW launched a daring landmine attack on Chandrababu Naidu’s motorcade in Tirupati last October. Since the attack, 46 politicians have been killed by the PW: 40 from the TDP and four from the BJP.

Naidu’s response to the attack on him was to quickly dissolve the house and call on the electorate to choose between Naxal violence and development. Most saw this more as a move to cash in on a sympathy wave following the attack. "That is not true, but as a political party, if there is sympathy, why shouldn’t we use it?" asks TDP spokesperson C. Ramchandraiah. However, with the Election Commission refusing to accept the TDP request for an early election, any sympathy that might have been seems to have evaporated.

But the shadow of the gun remains a crucial factor in these polls. Last month, the rebels killed the husband of the tribal welfare minister, but in general the PW’s tactic has been to target low-level cadre. This has led to the resignation of hundreds of TDP and BJP party workers in Naxal-dominated pockets. Many others have fled their villages, hurting the parties’ campaigns in these areas. "But while the Naxals have been testing the resilience of TDP workers, they also know that if they go overboard they could play into Naidu’s hand," say intelligence officials.

In recent years, the Naxals have suffered several setbacks, especially in their traditional stronghold of northern Telangana where the cops have eliminated several top rebels. The groups’ influence has also dwindled with surrenders and lack of fresh enrolments. However, the attack on Naidu has shown that even on the backfoot, the PW is still capable of dramatic strikebacks. Now, the PW is frustrating the police with its latest tactic of using small squads to hit soft targets.

Seventy of the state’s 294 assembly segments have been officially declared "Naxal-affected". The administration’s main concern now is that the PW might try to scare pro-TDP voters away from the polling booths. But, though the PW has been categorical in its call for a boycott of the TDP-BJP combine, it’s been more ambiguous about the Opposition alliance. Ideologically, the Maoists are opposed to elections, but while calling for a boycott of the TDP-BJP their literature advises people to quiz the other candidates before deciding on what to do.

Naidu accuses the Congress and its alliance partner, the Telangana Rashtra Samiti, of working hand-in-glove with the Naxals. The parties deny this, but it’s true they have been taking a softer line on the rebels. There are indications they would like to reopen negotiations and revive the peace talks, which got sidetracked after police warned Naidu against giving in to the rebels’ precondition for a ceasefire before the talks. Police insist they have enough evidence that the ceasefire demand was just a ploy by the rebels to regroup.

The TDP has tried to counter the Naxal threat by trying to make development a major issue in these elections and is hoping that voters, especially women, will come out in large numbers to vote against the Naxals and for the TDP. However, for Naidu who is already battling incumbency, drought, dissidence, Telangana separatists and a resurgent Congress, the Naxals are another key factor tipping the scales against his bid to retain power.


in Outlook India, Monday, april 26, 2004.

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