Polling will take place on Saturday in 13 seats of Jharkhand in the first phase of the Assembly election. Among these are several constituencies in Naxal-affected areas, namely Latehar, Lohardaga, Chatra, Gumla, Manika (Latehar district), Panki and Daltonganj (both in Palamu district).
Only days ago, on 23 November, four policemen were killed in a Naxal attack at Latehar district. The Naxals' objective behind this attack, timed just before the Assembly polls, appeared to be to assert their dominance and convey a message to the government and people that they are alive and kicking.
Out of 4,892 polling booths in Jharkhand, 1,202 have been identified as ‘sensitive’ and 1,790 booths have termed as ‘highly sensitive’ ones with reference to left-wing extremism (LWE).
“Four out of every five Assembly constituencies in Jharkhand are affected by LWE. Out of 24 districts of Jharkhand, 19 districts with 67 Assembly seats are affected by LWE. Of these 19 districts, the situation in 13 districts is particularly bad,” Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora had said while announcing the dates of polling in Jharkhand.
The CEC’s statement attests to the fact that left-wing extremism has proved to be the Achilles' heel for the BJP government in the state. The Latehar incident was not an isolated one and was a part of a strategy of the Maoists. It was similar to an attack in Chhattisgarh's Dantewda on 9 April, in which BJP MLA Bhima Mandavi was killed two days before the constituency voted as part of the Lok Sabha election.
Ajoy Kumar, an ex-IPS officer and a member of the Aam Aadmi Party, told Firstpost, “Naxalism will have a political impact in some parts of the state. This problem can’t just be solved through a carrot-and-stick policy. The BJP heads the government both at the Centre and in the state, and it bears some responsibility for the absence of government services from large parts of the state. In many rural areas, there are no schools or hospitals, and this leads to anger among people.”
The situation in Jharkhand is quite similar to Chhattisgarh, where Naxals assert their dominance by issuing calls to boycott polls and conducting ambushes around that time.
Another Naxal-affected constituency — Khunti — will go to the polls in the second phase on 7 December. Here, many tribal villages had boycotted the Lok Sabha election, and they may do the same this time as well.
Significantly, it was in Khunti that 10,000 people, mostly tribals were charged with sedition for taking part in the Pathalgadi movement. The movement is said to have begun in 2017, when tribals installed stone inscriptions with sections of the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution and the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act.
Speaking about the sedition charges, Kumar, who is a former Lok Sabha MP from Jamshedpur, said, "The filing of sedition charges shows the government’s high-handedness and insensitivity. This will certainly have repercussions,”
Incidents like the one in Khunti provide fodder for the Maoists to garner the sympathy of tribals, who are often caught between the government and left-wing extremists.
Jharkhand-based senior journalist Madhukar Anand said, "The Khunti incident will have an impact to an extent. It is a separate issue that the Pathalgadi issue was blown out of proportion."
Experts believe that apathy of successive governments towards tribals, poor implementation of government schemes, economic inequality, slow implementation of land reforms, non-availability of basic infrastructure like schools and medical facilities have created an environment that contributes to the persistence of Naxalism in Jharkhand.
According to the Ministry of Home Affairs' data for 2018-2019, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh together accounted for 71 percent of the total incidents of Naxal violence in the country.
However, in Jharkhand, the ideological movement that emerged out of the ‘Naxalbari movement’ in West Bengal in the late 1960s, is passé. According to Anand, Naxals now "act as criminals under the garb of an ideology."
Indeed, Naxal activities in the state are more about extortion, collection of levy from mining and road contractors, and crime syndicates under the garb of a fight for the tribals' ‘jal-jungle-zameen’ (water, forest and land).
Interestingly, among the poll candidates is surrendered Maoist leader Kundan Pahan, who is currently in jail. He is an accused in several criminal cases, including the murder of former minister and JD(U) MLA Ramesh Singh Munda.
Speaking about Pahan's candidature, Anand said, "Pahan, who carried a reward of Rs 25 lakh on his head, had unleashed a reign of terror in Jharkhand and faces more than 100 cases, including those involving murders and dacoity. Now, he is contesting from Tamar constituency in Ranchi district. This is most surprising and shows our political system in poor light."
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Updated Date: Nov 29, 2019 21:40:16 IST