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Mainstream, Vol XLVII No 19, April 25, 2009

Elections and the Maoist Phenomenon

Editorial

Sunday 26 April 2009, by SC

Exactly a week ago, on April 16, the process of the 15th general elections was set in motion when 124 Lok Sabha constituencies in 17 States and Union Territories went to polls in the first phase of the massive electoral exercise. These included six States—Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Maharashtra and Orissa—through which passes the Maoist ‘Red corridor’. After the voting, the Election Commission estimates put the poll percentage “around 58 to 62 per cent”.

However, what was striking in the poll exercise was the widespread effort to disrupt the elections: nearly 70 poll-related incidents were registered and these included gunbattles, attacks on polling parties, looting of EVMs. On April 16 itself 16 people were killed in Maoist violence in five of the six States affected by the extremist offensive (the figure jumping to 36 if the violence on the day preceding the vote, that is, April 15, is taken into account).

Observers and analysts have been quick to conclude that the fairly good polling in the first phase despite such violence showed the Indian electorate’s rejection of the Maoist call for vote boycott thus bringing out the inherent strength of our parliamentary democracy.

As these lines are being written, the second phase of polling in 140 constituencies in 12 States is underway. Latest reports suggest that the polling rate till mid-day has been slow not only due to attacks by Maoists in several places on April 22 apart from the hijacking of a train with 1000 passengers on that day (on polling day too there have been sporadic incidents of violence in Jharkhand), but also because of the oppressive heat wave in large parts of the territory going through the elections.

While there is no doubt some strength in the argument that a reasonably good turnout on April 16 was indicative of the inability of the Maoists to implement their call for vote boycott, the Maoists’ potentiality to strike at will notwithstanding the state’s retaliatory repressive measures is a persistent reminder of the failure of both governance as well as the political parties participating in elections alongside the continued validity of the Maoist ideology (on the basis of its ongoing success in winning over adherents to its cause from among the most disprivileged, dispossessed and deprived segments of our polity) regardless of the decimation of countless militant cadres in numerous operations. In fact repression has failed to curb the Maoist depredations—if at all, the scale of Maoist onslaughts has mounted over the years braving all forms of state-engineered counter-violence. This only goes to show that mere resort to brute force cannot liquidate the virus of Maoism. It is only through the adoption of political means of carrying out allround socio-economic development of the affected regions can the problem be effectively tackled, as has been eloquently spelt out in the comprehensive report of the Expert Group on the subject, set up by the Planning Commission (relevant excerpts of which appeared in this journal’s June 7, June 14 and June 21 issues last year).

The 15th general elections are being held without any serious issue, policy-perspective and/or ideology thrown up by the political parties in the fray during the poll campaign. Against that backdrop the challenge posed by Maoism in India assumes special significance. At a time when the Sri Lankan Government, in the name of eliminating the LTTE, has taken recourse to an essentially military solution to the ethnic conflict in the island state and resorted to large scale violation of human rights thus placing the safety of the Tamil citizens there in jeopardy, the Government of India is seeking to grapple with the Maoist problem by relying on a similar military solution. In both cases there can be no military solution and all steps need to be taken to strive for political resolution through a holistic approach. If New Delhi can urge Colombo to evolve such an approach vis-a-vis the Tamils in Sri Lanka, why can’t it itself adopt the same holistic outlook in relation to the Maoist phenomenon in this country? Needless to underscore, this phenomenon is the clearest testimony to large scale disaffection among the most downtrodden and marginalised sections in the rural areas threatening to undermine and eventually destroy the basic foundations of our parliamentary democracy.

April 23 S.C.

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