Friday, December 12, 2008

Voters send clear message to Naxals

9 Dec 2008, 0449 hrs IST, Bharti Jain, ET Bureau

The nearly 55% voter turnout recorded in Naxalite-infested pockets on November 14 is an indication of the electorate’s defiance of the CPI(Maoist)’s
poll boycott call and the comfortable victory of the Raman Singh government here cocks a snook at allegations by rights activists that the BJP regime was using Salwa Judum to create a private army of local tribals against Naxalites.

Dantewada, the district where Salwa Judum is concentrated, returned BJP candidates from two of its three assembly segments. So much so, even the original brain behind Salwa Judum, Congress leader Mahendra Karma, lost to the BJP in Dantewada.

The tally of BJP in Naxalite-infested Bastar region improved from nine to 10 seats, with adversaries managing only the remaining two of the 12 seats in the region. In the other tribal belt of Ambikapur and Surguja, the BJP walked away with 12 of the total 14 assembly seats. The impressive show by the BJP in the Naxal belt is a signal to the state Congress that its attempts at painting Salwa Judum as an anti-tribal, rather than an anti-Naxal campaign, has not gone down well with the electorate.

Incidentally, a recent NHRC inquiry into alleged excesses by Salwa Judum activists, including killings and rape, had failed to substantiate the charges. The NHRC report said: “Allegations against Salwa Judum of killings are not true. During the inquiry of some specific allegations, the inquiry team also did not come across any case of rape which could be substantiated.

“On the other hand, Naxalites (Maoists) have not only selectively killed Salwa Judum leaders and supporters, but they are also responsible for indiscriminate killing of many tribals and security personnel.”

For the Raman Singh government, credited with several surgical strikes on Naxal hideouts across south Chhattisgarh, its tough approach against red terror seems to have reaped electoral dividends. Incidents relating to Left-wing extremism have come down in the state since 2007, as have killings of civilians and security forces.

Incidents were down from 436 between January and August 2007 to 363 until August this year. Fatal casualties among security forces fell from 148 in the corresponding period of 2007 to 49 this year, as did civilian killings from 139 to 95.

NEW DELHI: Raman Singh's return to power in Chhattisgarh will give a further fillip to the strong anti-naxal stance his government had taken in the
previous five years.

The ayurveda doctor's gentle countenance won him a battle against anti-incumbency and Ajit Jogi just as much as his stern response to naxalism helped the `chawalwale baba' make further inroads in the tribal districts of the state.

The consequences of his victory might be less significant in the run-up to the general elections in comparison with Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Delhi but the thumbs up to the doctor for his firm handling of Red terror is bound to impact the larger fight against naxal violence throughout the country as well as the attendant arguments.

In the north, BJP won a symbolic victory against the `king' of Sarguja, defeating T P Singh Deo alias Baba in Ambikapur just as it swept 10 out of 12 seats in the region that has traditionally been a Congress bastion. In an area where naxalism has only begun to take root and remains largely limited to the interiors and the border with Jharkhand, Jogi's election promise to end Salwa Judum seemed to have worked in BJP's favour.

With a large non-tribal vote in the region inherently against any political establishment going soft on naxals, Raman Singh pulled in additional tribal votes to thwart any hopes of a return by Jogi.

In the south, even as the `founder' of Sulwa Judum, Congress's Mahendra Karma lost due to local factors, BJP went on to win Bijapur, a naxal dominated constituency -- just as iconic a victory as Ambikapur in the north. Its sweep over the tribal belt in south was more emphatic as it took Bastar, Chitrakoot and Dantewada -- the heart of the Red zone in the state.

The statements from BJP as the results came in were along expected lines. "It's people's response to terror with the weapon of democracy and a win over the motivated campaign of some liberal intellectuals," Ravi Shankar Prasad, BJP general secretary in-charge of Chhattisgarh, said.

Reports that could not be confirmed independently had come in a night before that further charges had been pressed against Binayak Sen, imprisoned by the state government and an icon for those opposed to Sulwa Judum.

"Sen might have become an icon for those ideologically opposed to the (Sulwa Judum) movement but the demographic break-up of the state, Jogi's image as being soft on naxals and a general exhaustion with the high level of violence, all these factors helped BJP," a party leader from the state said.

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