Dantewada (Chhattisgarh): Candidates in the Dantewada constituency, considered by some to be one of India’s hot spots in terms of Naxalite activity, don’t just have to fight each other in the coming elections to the state assembly—they also have to fight terror which, according to party and government officials here, has already affected campaigning and could result in a low voter turnout.
Terror politics: People at a Salwa Judum camp. The votes from these camps may be critical in the state. Liz Mathew / Mint
In the fray are Mahendra Karma, considered by some to be the Congress’ second most important leader in the state after former chief minister Ajit Jogi, Bhima Mandavi of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, and Manish Kunjam of the Communist Party of India, or CPI.
Some analysts say there’s little to choose between Karma and Mandavi because the Congressman is “hand in glove” with the state government. Others say that Kunjam has the support of the Naxalites, although they have asked people in the region to boycott polls.
The Naxalites are also being blamed by the government for the killings of BJP’s Dantewada district vice-president Ramesh Singh Rathore and his associate Surya Prakash Chauhan.
The result has been a lull in campaigning.
Sitting on a plastic chair in front of a thatched structure, Dhananjay, who gave only his first name and introduced himself as the assembly representative of Karma, the sitting representative from Dantewada, said Sunday’s killings had affected campaigning. “It is the same case with all the candidates. The killings have cast a shadow over the campaign in all the 12 constituencies in this Bastar region.”
Suresh Mahapatra, the editor of local daily Bastar Impact said: “No one is willing to come out. Who does not care for his life? The campaign was getting hot, but all of a sudden, the leaders started withdrawing. They have even forgotten the political differences and started advising each other against venturing out.”
According to Dhananjay, the CPI is the only party still actively campaigning. “The CPI and Naxals are together. The Naxals allowed only the CPI to campaign freely.”
CPI’s Kunjum, however, denied the charge: “They have been raising these charges against me since long. They are baseless. I am fighting against the mutlinational companies that have been exploiting and looting the resources of the states, and the Salwa Judum (the BJP government’s initiative to train the local youth to counter Naxals) because I cannot support killing of innocent people in the name of fighting Naxalism.”
Dhananjay said the Naxalites had targeted Rathore and Chauhan because they were mid-level leaders and their killings would have an impact both on lower-level party workers as well as candidates themselves.
Although the Congress manifesto is silent on the issue, Karma, one of the few Congress leaders who supported the Salwa Judum, is contesting the election on an anti-Naxal platform. Karma’s candidature is secretly being supported by the state’s chief minister, BJP’s Raman Singh, said some BJP party members who did not want to be named.
That may be critical in deciding which way the 50,000-odd people in the Salwa Judum camps vote. Ever since the movement began around three years ago, displaced villagers have been moved to relief camps. The Election Commission, the constitutional body that conducts and monitors elections, has made arrangements for people in camps to exercise their franchise.
A senior police official said his department would try and ensure that everyone who wanted to vote got a chance to do so. He claimed that the BJP leaders killed by the Naxalites had not sought any protection from the police. “Those who are coming to vote will be protected,” said Vishwa Ranjan, the state’s director general of police.
But the violence here has been going on since the 1980s and “it is possible that many people do not come out to vote”.