Maoist fear makes voting tough task in Bastar

Maoist fear makes voting tough task in Bastar

In large swathes of forest-rich Bastar, tribals will have to walk anything between 10 and 140 km if they want to cast their votes in the 2014 polls, as almost 10 per cent polling booths have been relocated for better administrative and security arrangements.

Shifting of 167 booths in Maoist-affected Naraianpur, Kanker, Bijapur and Dantewada provide little option to tribals than to walk long distances in the forest, ignoring the Maoist poll boycott calls. For instance, Gome polling station in Naraianpur was shifted to Sonpur Middle School for better poll management. As a result, the residents of seven villages had to walk 140 km (70 km on both sides) over three days to exercise their franchise.

Pangud polling station in the same district was also shifted to the same school, resulting in an 80-km cross-country walk for tribals in five villages. While the most affected would be 16 polling stations covering close to 100 villages with 8,000 votes, these 167 polling booths fetch substantial number of voters.

These votes are crucial for the CPI and the new entrant Aam Aadmi Party because many villagers prefer skipping voting due to the Maoist factor. “We protested but nobody listened to us,” said veteran Communist leader Chittaranjan Bakshi. 

In some of the tribal villages, the fear runs too deep. That compelled villagers to approach the administration to spare them the ink mark that distinguishes them as voters. The proposal obviously was not acceptable to the administration.

For AAP candidate Soni Sori or her relative and CPI candidate Bimala Sori, these votes do matter. They are pitted against BJP's Dinesh Kashyap – sitting MP and brother of state minister Kedar Kashyap – and Congress' Deepak Karma, son of slain leader Mahendra Karma who was gunned down by Maoists in Darba Ghati last May along with several other Congress leaders.

Karma is riding on a sympathy wave. His mother Devati Karma also was benefited by it when she defeated the BJP candidate by 6,000 votes in the 2013 Assembly polls.
Soni Sori too enjoyed a bit of sympathy at least in the urban pockets of Kondagaon, Bastar and Jagdalpur because of the alleged police atrocities on her, which fetched international media attention. Close to 200 non-governmental outfits are campaigning for her in Bastar.

The Congress is also counting on its turnaround in Bastar. In the 2013 Assembly polls, it bagged eight assembly seats out of 12 in the Bastar region. A low polling would adversely affect them too, albeit on a lower scale. The BJP, on the other hand, could be a gainer because of its strong RSS-backed cadres. But the sitting MP's poor performance may go against him. Chief Minister Raman Singh on Tuesday sought votes for the MP in the name of his father Baliram Kashyap – a four-time MP – and BJP's prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi.

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