Red reign over?
Taking a cue from the impact which the boycott call given by the Maoists had in assembly polls in the state of Chhattisgarh in 2008, this time around also it was expected to have the same trend in the Naxal-affected assembly constituencies of Dantewada and Bastar districts. However, the trend was bucked with both the districts registering 67 per cent and 60 per cent of voting, respectively, in the just concluded assembly elections.
The huge turnout despite total boycott called by Red ultras has forced the experts in political affairs to think beyond the Maoists threats. The big question for the government and Red rebel sympathisers is whether Maoists losing their steam? Or have the Red ultras thrown in the towel?
In a democratic set-up such as India, the life of rebel movements fueled by revolutionary thoughts does not last long as in case of the greater Palestinian struggle, which was started in 1920 and is still on, albeit in a different mould, says Himanshu Roy, senior fellow at Nehru Memorial Museum and Library in New Delhi.
Citing different rebel movements across the country, Roy added that the radical movements started by caste-based groups such as Ranvir Sena in Bihar, Peoples War Group in the states of Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra among others lose their ability to influence in a very short span of time. The time period of 10 to 15 years is more than sufficient for these movements to die down, said Roy, who is doing research on penetration of Maoists in Chhattisgarh.
Even some major uprisings during India’s freedom struggle such as the 1857 revolt, civil disobedience and non-cooperation didn’t survive for a longer period, Roy further added.
The Maoists’ movement, which was started in Naxalbari in West Bengal and spread across the country in phased manner, is also facing the challenge of extinction. Social scientists believe that the prevalence of democracy is a big deterrent for the ultras to strike at the roots. At the beginning of the Naxal movement, the Red rebels were mainly based in urban areas. Students of even prestigious institutions such as Calcutta’s Presidency College were part of the movement. But the Maoists of today seem to have realised how easy it is for the police to infiltrate into urban outfits. Hence, they are waging the war from jungle hideouts such as Dantewada, Bastar and Rajnandgaon in Chhattisgarh and Balaghat in Madhya Pradesh, apart from Jharkhand, Odihsa, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh among others. And it’s a known fact that dense forest areas of Chhattisgarh proved to be a boon for Red ultras and they used these areas as safe hideouts. It is believed that tribal populations that are residing in the villages of Bastar district are not too bothered about venturing out of their shells. They are dependent on natural resources only. But this time, these communities too came out of their huts and participated in the democratic process, which could be witnessed as the result of state government’s populist rice scheme.
In view of social scientist MP Singh the high turnout is the result of government’s concern for this downtrodden community. Most of the tribals need rice which is being provided to them by the government through different schemes, says Roy, who is doing an extensive research on Maoists of the state, adding that the Abujmaria tribal community of Bastar lives in the thick bamboo forest areas having the average land holding of just 2.34 acre. The other factor that might have influenced the tribal community to take part in the world’s largest democratic process is the penetration of political workers in these areas, which was almost negligible in the earlier elections. With the activists of national parties as well as social societies camping in the tribal-dominated villages, the illiterate masses of forest land reached polling booths defying the Maoists boycott, says Roy, who was present in Chhattisgarh at the time of voting.
Tribals have exhibited their faith in democracy and want an opportunity to work in terror-free environment for their upliftment, Roy added.
In total, there are eighteen constituencies in the Naxal-affected Bastar division and Rajnandgaon district comprising districts of Kanker, Kondagaon, Bastar, Narayanpur, Bijapur, Dantewada and Sukma.
Apart from the above two factors, this election saw political parties adopta very different mode of luring the voters. In a bid to dodge the Election Commission’s strict vigil to check the malpractices prevalent in elections such as distribution of goodies, the national parties used shopping coupons to attract voters into their fold. Electorates were provided with coupons of a particular shop of a certain amount with validity in some select shops of their respective areas. This formula must have worked across the length and breadth in the tribal areas to garner the support of the community, Roy said.
Apart from this there is a muted allegation of fake voting resulting into the high turnout in these areas. But, in Roy’s opinion, the charge of fake voting is irrelevant as the Election Commission had installed video cameras at every booth.
Is there any relation between high voting percentage in tribal-affected areas of Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh and defeat of Maoist party in Nepal, the neighbouring country? In answer to this senior political scientist MP Singh says both the cases are different. In the case of Chhattisgarh, Singh says huge turnout indicates that it’s time for Maoists to pack up, while in Nepal’s case, the defeat of Pushpa Kamal Dahal-led United Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) was imminent. People of the Himalayan country wanted to free the country from the clutches of Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal as during the last five years the country was without any constitution and parliament was paralysed in addressing chronic problems such as poverty, fuel shortages and corruption.
In the current elections, Nepali Congress won 196 out of 601 of the Constituent assembly seats followed by Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist Leninist) 175 seats and United Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) won just 80 seats.
Though it will be too early to say, but the dethroning of Pushpa Kamal Dahal in the Himalayan country will certainly give a boost to a healthy democracy in the neighbouring country, which will somehow propel better ties with India in future, says Singh, who is now a fellow at the Centre for Multi-level Federalism.
In the coming years the Maoists operating in India may be a passé as there are signs that the movement is flagging. A decade ago, Maoists had their footprints in 223 districts, but now their presence has fallen to 182. Also of the 16 politburo members, only seven are alive. The setbacks have led some like a senior Maoist leader of Odisha, Sabyasachi Panda, to question the people’s war tactics, saying that conditions in India are not ripe for them.
The crisis faced by the Maoists has been acknowledged in an internal document, which has said that the ‘movement is facing a critical situation as we have not formulated appropriate tactics’. As a result, there has been a ‘decrease in mass base and recruitment, increase in the number of persons leaving the movement and limitation in the fighting ability of the PLGA (People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army)’. Prior to this decline, the Indian Maoists were disheartened by the decision of their Nepali comrades to give up their struggle and join the electoral process.