By T S Sudhir
The Election Commission, Sushil Kumar Shinde and Raman Singh can pat themselves on their back for managing to hold elections relatively peacefully in south Chhattisgarh on Monday. To top it, by the end of the day at least 67 per cent of the voters had defied the boycott call given by the Maoists to have a date with the EVM. As Alex Paul Menon, the IAS officer who was kidnapped by the Maoists in Chhattisgarh in 2012 tweeted : “The dance of democracy won before d dance of death destruction n threat. D poor tribals Hv defied d mighty RED BULLS. Jai Hind.”
But now that they got two in every three voters to vote in that Maoist den, it is important that the powers-that-be do not forget the tribals till April next year, when they will have to repeat the exercise in the general elections. Because there are several important messages that emanate out of the tribals walking that extra mile, literally.
The facts on the ground first. As many as 56200 security personnel were sent by the Centre in addition to the 40000 men and women already engaged in anti-Maoist operations in Chhattisgarh. This after the Maoists did what they always do – call to boycott elections and issue threat to disrupt polls. In Bastar, Dantewada, Korba and Bijapur, 167 polling booths were moved out of interior areas to `safer’ locations. In some cases, the polling stations were more than 10 km away from the village.
That the voters turned up, seeking comfort in the considerable presence of the sarkaari gun, should worry Ganapathy, the Maoist top boss. If he interprets this as a show of defiance, the Maoists can be trusted to set up kangaroo courts and seek vengeance. After all, most of south Chhattisgarh is for all practical purposes, part of the Republic of India, only on paper.
It shows that given adequate protection, the hapless tribals, often branded either police informers by the Maoists or naxal sympathisers by the security forces, are willing to embrace the governance system, however faulty. It also shows that the tribals want to be part of the process where their one vote plays a part in deciding who represents their cause in Raipur. It shows that the tribals too want to get the benefits of the welfare system. It is also a message to the Maoists that the tribals have had enough of their parallel government which only makes them outcasts in the very land they live in.
It is this goodwill and desire to be part of the mainstream that Shinde should have the foresight and political acumen to take advantage of. But part two of this process cannot come riding on the gun. The same sarkaar now has to make inroads into areas deep in the Red Corridor, to reach out to the tribals who dared to speak their mind. If they do not, it will be a huge opportunity lost. After all, most of our pampered cities do not register this kind of voting percentage.
The Maoists can be expected to ensure the state does not move in, with a more kind face. Trust them to up the ante pretty soon.
But Ganapathy would not lose heart completely. That is because the Union government had to engage in unprecedented deployment of security forces to ensure peaceful voting in the Maoist den, thereby acknowledging that a large part of central India is simply not in its control. In fact, if you speak to any of the top commanders of the security forces, they will tell you that the Government of India has unofficially ceded south Chhattisgarh to the outlaws.
But even though erring on the side of caution, it was obviously not a foolish move. The EC and the government obviously took the decision to avoid any violence by the Maoists, who see red when they spot an EVM.
The state now has to ensure the safety of all those who walked into a polling booth on November 11. Chhattisgarh also holds important lessons for another Maoist-infested state, Jharkhand that will also vote in the Lok Sabha polls in April.
The question that is now being asked is whether anything will change if Raman Singh scores a hat-trick? Senior security personnel who I spoke to, say a big No. After all, the BJP swept this region in the 2008 elections too. And in the past two terms of the Raman Singh government, everyone seems to have settled into a cosy arrangement with everyone allowed his space. The government, the Maoists and the mining lobby.
It says a lot of the manner in which the state has abdicated its responsibility that none of the Maoists responsible for the carnage at Dharbha Ghati on June 25 have been accounted for. That the writ of the Chhattisgarh government does not run much beyond Raipur is evident from the fact the Maoists who wiped off the entire Congress leadership in the state still walk around free.
If Raman Singh returns, he will feted as a CM who performed. For a reality check, you only need to cross the Andhra Pradesh border and step into Chhattisgarh.