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Maoists: Disrupting Democracy in India

 

 

Last updated Wednesday July 06, 2016

  India, Maoist Insurgency, Democracy, Election  
 
In the 2004 and 2009 General Elections of India, the six Left Wing Extremist (LWE)-affected states had accounted for 108 and 124 violent incidents resulting in 9 and 24 deaths respectively. In the present process for the Elections of 2014, the main focus area for security deployment are the 33 Districts worst affected by Maoist violence, which have been designated as 'A' category Districts. Of these, 13 are in Jharkhand, eight in Chhattisgarh, five in Bihar, four in Odisha, two in Andhra Pradesh and one in Maharashtra.

 

 

Fakir Mohan Pradhan

 
 

The Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) appears to be trying to stare down the ‘critical situation’ facing the movement, exploiting the vulnerabilities of the security arrangements to perpetrate violence in the heightened atmosphere of the ongoing General Elections. Despite increased Security Force (SF) presence to secure free and fair polls, the Maoists have hit multiple States in the areas where elections were held on April 10, 2014, in the second of the nine-phase election declared by the Election Commission.

In Chhattisgarh, the CPI-Maoist struck twice in an hour on April 12, killing 14 people, including seven polling officials and five Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel, as they blew up a bus and an ambulance, respectively, in the Bijapur and Bastar Districts.

 

Maoists first triggered a powerful blast, targeting a bus when a polling party was returning, between Kutru and Gudma in Bijapur District. Seven members of the polling party were killed in the explosion and subsequent firing, which also left five persons injured. Sources indicate that 75 to 100 armed Maoists were involved in the ambush.

Within an hour Maoists struck again and blew up an ambulance killing five CRPF personnel, a medical attendant and the driver on the spot in Darbha on the Jagdalpur-Sukma national highway in the Bastar District.

On April 9, 2014, three personnel of the Commando Battalion for Resolute Action (CoBRA) unit of the CRPF were killed and another three were injured in a Maoist ambush in Chhattisgarh’s Sukma District. The incident occurred near the Chintagufa village, when a team of the CoBRA and Sukma Police was returning after escorting a poll party. In another incident on the same day, three personnel of the 85th battalion of the CRPF were injured in an improvised explosive device (IED) blast near Kikler village in Bijapur District.

On April 10, 2014, in Bihar, two CRPF troopers were killed and seven others were injured when the Maoists triggered an IED planted under a bridge targeting a team of the paramilitary force and Bihar Police personnel in two jeeps on their way to a polling station in the Jamui parliamentary constituency. The incident occurred near Sawa Lakh Baba Mandir (temple) on the fringes of the Bhimbandh Forest in Munger District, just four hours before polling commenced.

Three days earlier, on April 7, 2014, at least three CRPF personnel were killed and eight others, including Station House Officer (SHO) Amar Kumar of the Bihar Police, were injured in a landmine blast near Baranda Mor under the Dhibra Police Station limits in Aurangabad District. The deceased included a CRPF Deputy Commandant. The explosion occurred when the troopers were attempting to defuse the mine.

In Maharashtra, on April 11, one Policeman was killed and five were seriously injured when the Maoists opened fire on a police team in the Gadchiroli District. The incident took place when a Police team of the Jimalgatta Police Station was providing security to the polling party of the Dambrancha polling booth.

While things remained relatively peaceful in Odisha, Maoists snatched Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) from polling personnel at Jodamba in Malkangiri’s cut-off area (150-odd villages of Kudumulu Gumma Block separated from the rest of the Block by the Balimela Reservoir) after the polling ended on April 10. The Maoists also snatched one EVM from a polling party while it was returning from Kanshariput under the Mathili Police Station limits in the District. Earlier, during the night of April 9, Maoists set ablaze a vehicle carrying EVMs and other polling materials near Mahupadar within the Mathili Police Station limits. The Maoists detained a polling party on April 10 and released on the next day, asking them to hand over a letter to the Government that demanded the operations against Maoists be halted.

Surprisingly, areas of Jharkhand that went to poll on April 10 saw a relatively peaceful process though the State had been placed on high alert and Police apprehended that SFs in the State could be targeted, especially trains transporting troops.

Security forces seized about 400 kilograms of explosives in the form of IEDs from Maoist-hit Districts across four States where polling was held on April 10. The biggest recovery was from Bihar where the CRPF seized 225 kilograms of IEDs —135 kg from Gaya and 90 kg from Aurangabad. Further, about 90 kilograms explosives were recovered from different locations in Bastar in south Chhattisgarh, about 52 kilograms from Jharkhand and 20 kilograms from Odisha.

Keeping Maoist and other insurgent violence in various states in mind, the Election Commission had declared a nine-phase election. The worst-affected areas in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Bihar, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh were scheduled for voting in a single phase (the second) with other affected areas in these States to go to polls in subsequent phases. This was done to prevent Maoists from moving from one area to another to disrupt polls, and also to ensure a maximum saturation of SFs in the polling areas during the election process.

The Union Home Ministry and the Election Commission had, while planning the approach of polling personnel to booths in Maoist-hit villages, taken care to mine-sweep the areas and also to weave in an element of surprise by breaking the journey of the contingents a little short of the polling stations. The polling parties and troops covered the last few miles only after dark, to minimize chances of an ambush. Also, some polling stations were relocated to nearby areas at the last minute to derail any Maoist plans to target them during voting.

Anticipating communal clashes and heavy violence by Maoists in different areas, including violence potentially targeting politicians, the Centre had agreed to provide 200 battalions of armed security personnel to the Election Commission for the smooth conduct of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. In the 2009 General Elections, by comparison, the Election Commission had deployed 120 battalions of armed security personnel. In the current process, 175 battalions are drawn from the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs) and about 25 battalions from the State Armed Police Forces. In addition, Police forces from the States' District Police apparatus also supplemented to the presence of the armed contingents provided to the Election Commission. Sources indicated that, in addition to the 90 battalions of CAPFs already deployed in Maoist-affected states, another 700 companies of Central Forces were being deployed in the Naxalite-affected Districts, thus taking the total presence up to 160 battalions.

In the 2004 and 2009 General Elections the six Left Wing Extremist (LWE)-affected states had accounted for 108 and 124 violent incidents resulting in 9 and 24 deaths respectively. In the present process, the main focus area for security deployment are the 33 Districts worst affected by Maoist violence, which have been designated as 'A' category Districts. Of these, 13 are in Jharkhand, eight in Chhattisgarh, five in Bihar, four in Odisha, two in Andhra Pradesh and one in Maharashtra.

In keeping with their practice before almost every election now, the Maoists had called for a boycott of the Lok Sabha polls across the country and also of the Assembly Elections being held simultaneously in Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and Sikkim.

In a statement issued by the CPI-Maoist Central Committee (CC) spokesperson Abhay, the outfit asked people not to vote for any of the national or regional parties and also included the new entity Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in its list to be boycotted. The Maoists called the elections a "sham" since the condition of the poor and the downtrodden remained unchanged even after past changes in regime. Abhay argued: “The great Marxist teacher Lenin stated in his State and Revolution, ‘Elections are held to decide once every few years which member of the ruling class is to repress and crush the people through parliament-such is the real essence of bourgeois parliamentarism, not only in parliamentary-constitutional monarchies, but also in the most democratic republics.’ This is more applicable to our semi-colonial, semi-feudal country that claims itself to be the 'biggest democracy in the world.”

On other occasions, the Maoists also slammed the introduction of the 'none of the above' (NOTA) option in ballot papers, declaring that its "purpose is to give validity to a system that is fast losing relevance." They demanded that the citizens' right to boycott polls - considering it an expression of opinion - be legalized. In Jharkhand, Sanket, spokesperson of the Eastern Regional Bureau of the CPI-Maoist, issued an 'alternative manifesto' in the form of a "short-term vision" document appealing to the masses to decide if they wanted "real democracy" or preferred to reinforce the existing "pseudo-democratic system" by casting their vote for the 16th Lok Sabha.

The Union Home Ministry had earlier sounded an alert to the Governments of Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha, West Bengal, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh warning that the Maoists intended to disrupt the General Elections by extensively mining their stronghold areas to target political leaders and security forces as a 'bounce-back strategy', after their failure to enforce their poll-boycott in Chhattisgarh during the Assembly Elections in November 2013. The advisory document claimed that the intelligence was based on specific disclosures by a leader of the Andhra-Odisha Border Special Zonal Committee (AOBSZC), indicating that the outfit planned to mine areas in the Narayanpatna, Bandhugaon and Laxmipur areas of Odisha.

A 'two-pronged strategy' devised by the CPI-Maoist Jharkhand Regional Committee also came to light following the seizure of a document by SFs in the Jamui area of Bihar on February 2, 2014. Titled “Chunao Bahishkar (Election Boycott)”, the paper purportedly outlined plans to disrupt the Lok Sabha polls in certain Districts of Bihar and Jharkhand through boycott campaigns coupled with attacks targeting security forces and political leaders, especially those belonging to the Congress, Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) and the Jharkhand Vikas Morcha. The seized document indicated that Maoist cadres had been instructed to arrange explosives to carry out strikes, including the targeting of vehicles used in election campaigns, abduction or elimination of political leaders, and ambushing security personnel.

As noted earlier in SAIR, the Maoists have resolved to "fight back the enemy onslaught on strategic area and guerrilla bases. As part of this, people and the People’s Militia should be rallied on a vast scale and mine warfare [emphasis added] should be intensified." The efficient harnessing of diminished resources and concentrated attacks on the weakest links of the state Forces are integral to this effort.

The susceptibilities of the polling process and personnel engaged in it have been heightened by the fact that the kind of saturation of Force that could be achieved, for instance in the Chhattisgarh Assembly Elections in November 2013 that ensured a relatively peaceful poll with an extraordinarily high voter turnout, has not been possible in the far more dispersed processes of a General Election. During the Assembly Elections, 564 additional companies of CAPFs were provided to Chhattisgarh to contain Maoist activities during the election process. But for the ongoing General Election, Chhattisgarh has been provided with just 143 additional Companies of CAPFs, as against a request by the State Police for at least 400 additional companies. Inevitably, vulnerabilities across the Maoist afflicted regions in the affected States will be greater than the case during the Chhattisgarh Assembly polls. This is already visible in the attacks and fatalities during the early phases of elections and can be expected to be compounded, in some measure, by continuing Maoist strikes over the coming weeks.

[Author is a research associate at Institute for Conflict Management]

 

 
   
 

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