Saturday, March 21, 2009

Real but unrecognised threat

An anti-Naxal combing operation on in the Western Ghats near Sringeri in Chikmagalur district.Oliver Pritchet First Published : 22 Mar 2009 11:49:00 PM IST

Last Updated : 22 Mar 2009 08:38:14 AM IST

For Karnataka’s Naxalites, it’s a change of role ­— if not reversal. The insurgents, who batted for the Congress during last year’s Assembly elections in the Western Ghat region of Chikmagalur, Udupi, Dakshina Kannada and Shimoga districts, are preparing to play a two-pronged role in the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections. They are inciting people to boycott polls in some parts and campaigning against the BJP in others. And they have got off to a flying start even before political parties even finalise their candidates.

The People’s Liberation Guerilla Army is contemptuous about the current government. B G Krishnamurthy, its leader in the Western Ghat region, derided the rulers at a March 5 meeting in Talagar village of Chikmagalur district. In Dakshina Kannada and Udupi, also Naxal-infested districts, the activists have distributed pamphlets and painted graffiti that call for poll boycotts. They proclaim the Naxals’ determination “to expose the Sangh Parivar and its anti-people, fascist designs and acts”.

But how influential are the Naxals? During last year’s assembly elections, they campaigned against the BJP in the Sringeri constituency. The saffron party eventually won, but by 5,000 votes less than it had originally estimated. Enthused, the Naxals are trying these tactics again. They have ensured that the media highlights Naxal-related violence, thereby creating fear and repugnance among the common people.

It seems to be working, going by what BJP leaders from Sringeri feel of late. In Bangalore last week, they told state president D V Sadananda Gowda, who will be contesting from the Udupi-Chikmagalur constituency, that they were not prepared to work for the BJP in the regions as they had received threats from the Naxals.

This is an area where the Pejawar Mutt of Udupi and Sharada Peeth of Sringeri have taken up development activities. They provide power, drinking water, houses and toilets. Though Pejawar head Vishwesha Theertha identifies with saffron outfits, he has not tried to influence people politically. The Naxalites, who openly appreciate the work of the two mutts, have taken advantage of their political silence.

Neither the state nor any political party has taken note of the Naxalite factor. While the administration is focused on ensuring smooth elections, leaders have ignored the growing influence of the insurgents.

The authorities have identified 280 polling booths in three Lok Sabha constituencies as “hypersensitive” due to Naxalite activity. The number may go up after reviews in the days to come. For the moment, though, no one bothers to look at the significance of the Naxalite presence. It’s still a mere law and order problem, though there is little doubt that their political influence in the Western Ghat region is increasing.

(With inputs from: Harsha, Dinesh Kini, Prabhakar Karanth, Chandrashekar, Jagadish Sampalli and Thippe Rudrappa)

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