Friday, April 10, 2009

Red poster war on polls

Red poster war on polls
- Boycott cry in Giridih, candidates abort campaigns
SHASHANK SHEKHAR

A Maoist poster in Uparghat, Nawadih, issues a warning to villagers on Thursday. Picture by Pankaj Singh

Nawadih-Gomia (Bokaro), April 9: Nawadih, Upartaand, Dumri and Gomia, which fall in the Giridih parliamentary constituency, are going to polls on April 23. But the usual hustle bustle that is synonymous with an election is curiously missing in these villages.

The only sign — rather warning — that reminds one of the approaching polls are handwritten posters, cautioning the villagers against casting their votes. Right, the Maoists are at it again. They have issued an ultimatum to villagers, asking them to “boycott polls or get ready to face dire consequences”. This explains why no party posters adorn the walls of the houses or no flags are seen hoisted atop the roofs.

In fact, though all major political parties, including BJP, JMM, CPI and JVM (Prajatantrik), have fielded candidates from this seat, none dared to venture into the villages to conduct poll meetings. The residents are too scared to even utter the word election for fear that a Maoist in the garb of a common man might catch them speaking about the banned E-word.

There are 57 panchayats in Nawadih, Gomia, Dumri and Pirtaand blocks and the total number of voters has been estimated to be around 50,000.

On a tour of rural pockets, this correspondent reached a small tea shop, located about 10km from the Nawadih crossing and 55km from Bokaro steel city. A group of about 12 men, all local residents, was huddled at the shop, chatting in their local Khortha language. As soon as they saw an unknown face, they became conscious and treaded on safe issues such as underdevelopment of the area.

When this correspondent introduced himself and asked them about the approaching polls, the din was suddenly replaced by an uncanny silence, with most of the men getting up and leaving the place.

Those who chose to stay back advised this correspondent to not ask such questions as Naxalites have given a “poll boycott” cry. “If they catch you discussing elections with us, your life will not only be in danger, we will also land up in trouble. So, please keep these questions to yourself,” said a villager.

“It’s late afternoon and you should leave the place. You never know where will you bump into Maoists, who loiter around disguised as villagers,” said an elderly.

Talking to The Telegraph, the commandant of the 26th Battalion of the CRPF V.S. Sharma said it was true that no political party had held any publicity drives in these Naxalite strongholds. “It does not look like that Lok Sabha polls will be held in these villages in two weeks’ time,” he said, but assured a peaceful election.

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