Maoist spectre looms large over Bastar polls

Maoist spectre looms large over Bastar polls

Posters and pamphlets put up by the Maoist asking the people to boycott Chhattisgarh Assembly elections. DH Photo / Prakash Kumar

It is not just a battle of ballots but also bullets in the Bastar region and other Maoist-hit areas in Chhattisgarh.

As the countdown for the first of polls in 18 constituencies on November 12 begins, the Maoist threat looms large with the rebels giving a call for poll boycott, holding meetings every day and punishing those aligning with the political parties in areas falling in their strongholds.

The entire forest area in Bastar region has turned into an active war zone, with both the Maoists and security forces remaining on a high alert, engaged in fierce encounters with each other almost every day.

Access to the lush green and thick forest of Bastar has become deadlier now with Maoists planting a web of landmines and splinter holes at various tactical locations in the areas under their influence to take lives of the security forces patrolling the area and register their physical presence to disrupt poll process.

While the Maoist have perpetrated over a dozen attacks on the security forces and polling officials in the past 15 days claiming several lives, a sub-inspector of the Border Security Force (BSF) was killed and several other security personnel were injured in an incident on Sunday as the rebels triggered a series of IED (Improvised Explosive Device) blasts at Koliyabeda in Kanker district of Chhattisgarh on Sunday morning.

The BSF team came under attack when they were patrolling the area which falls under Antahgarh constituency, from where Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP Vikram Usendi is contesting the Assembly polls.

Meanwhile, in another incident, security forces gunned down a Maoist in an encounter at Bedre village in Bijapur district.

“They are trying their best to create obstructions in polling. But, we are also ready to face any situation. We have made strategic and tactical deployments, creating four layers of security around the polling booths,” Deputy Inspector General of South Bastar region Ratan Lal Dangi told DH.

He said adequate forces, comprising 600 paramilitary forces, India Reserve Battalion personnel and those from the Chhattisgarh Police, have been deployed in the region to ensure the conduct of a free, fair and smooth poll.

Poll officials have been sent to 200 polling booths by helicopters.

“Our biggest problem is the planting of pressure IED and spike holes by the Maoists. But, our security forces are meeting the challenge,” he added.

Maoists call for a poll boycott is not only giving a tough time to security forces and poll officials but also the candidates in the fray, their party workers and supporters.

While the candidates and their party workers conducted their poll campaigns covering limited areas, primarily in urban settlements, in their respective constituencies fearing Maoists backlash, the electors prefer to keep mum over their choice and participation in the elections.

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“I cannot say anything…I do not want to talk...I don’t know,” were the common response of the electors in the villages falling under the Bastar region when asked about the fate of the Assembly elections and candidates in the fray.

Last week in Sukma district, suspected Maoists beat Kalmu Dhruva to death by sticks. He was a worker of the Communist Party of India (CPI) which has fielded ex-MLA Manish Kunjam as its candidate from the extremist-hit Konta constituency against Congress’ sitting MLA Kawasi Lakhma.

“He was very dear to me and a dedicated party worker,” Kunjam said and accused Lakhma of hatching a conspiracy to get Dhruva killed by Maoists.

He said Maoists’ call for a poll boycott has its impact in various areas.

“We have managed to hold our poll campaign covering as much area as we could,” he told DH when contacted.

A total of 18 constituencies hit by left-wing extremism is set to go for polls in the first phase on November 12. Of them, 12 seats fall in Bastar region — 8 out of which are currently with the Congress while the remaining four with the BJP.