Maoism vs Democracy - A crucial frontier


In our entire experience as a democracy, we have faced several challenges of varying intensity. One of the more serious of these is that of institutionalizing democracy in the areas which have traditionally been called the 'Red Corridor'. The issue recently came into light during the tragedy in Dantewada. This article examines various facets of this challenge and tries to provide some solutions.

In November 2018, Chhattisgarh witnessed what were perhaps its most successful state assembly elections in recent times. This was the truest in Naxal-infested areas, where poor villagers defied the 'red threats' and turned out to vote in large numbers. The 18 Naxal-affected assembly constituencies in the state saw a turnaround of 76.28%, which was considerably higher than the last time. Villagers not just defied Naxal threats, but also defied the rugged geography of the area, which threatened to make polling stations inaccessible to a large number of villages. Villagers used boats to cross the mighty Indravati River, and that too after having crossed long distances on foot.

Contrast this with the situation this time around, just about six months from the previous assembly elections. The Dantewada incident is perhaps as strong a threat that can be issued to any supporter of democracy. A sitting MP of the ruling party was blown up along with four security personnel. The ambush and the blast have now made the atmosphere extremely tense. This is somewhat reminiscent of the incident in 2013, though on a smaller scale, where 25 Congressmen were killed by Left-Wing extremists. After this incident, six polling booths in the district saw no voting at all.

Tension and fear


In these areas, where human life is nothing more than simple statistics, where a lack of development and a frightening ideology have combined to create explosive situations, democracy faces an uphill task. The first and foremost hurdle is to remove the fear from the hearts of people. This in itself is a task that might take several years of work. Despite India's security forces giving all of their efforts, the Naxals still hold sway over large swathes of territory. These are the areas where landmine explosions and gross violations of human rights are a fact of life.

This atmosphere of fear is something which cannot be expressed in articles of any length. The poor villagers have to live in a proverbial hell. If villagers cooperate with the security forces, they have to face the bullets of the Naxalites. On the other hand, even being suspected of cooperating with the Naxals can lead to custody and even death. It is not uncommon to find stories of entire villages being deserted in the so-called 'Red Corridor'.

The Development factor


The other great barrier that democracy faces in these areas is that of lack of development. The villages are rarely connected with metalled roads. The forested terrain is obviously a problem as well. This lack of connectivity leads to situations where moving to the polling booth to cast a vote becomes some kind of lethal adventure. At the beginning of the article, we saw how voters had to use a boat to cross the Indravati River, only and only to cast their vote. What we all take for granted in our cities is a prized commodity in these areas.

In fact, in several booths of the Naxal-affected areas, there is practically no network connectivity. A report was published in 'The Hindu' just a couple of days ago, which showed the plight of villagers living in the Naxal-infested area in Gadchiroli of Maharashtra. Most of these voters hadn't received their Voter IDs and were unsure if their name was even in the electoral roll or not. Moreover, these villagers did not witness any kind of din and bustle of an electoral campaign. As most of them also suffer from diseases like eczematous dermatitis and are therefore bed-ridden, their poor health also stands in the way of them exercising their franchise.

Looking for solutions


What can we do to cure this menace? First of all, it is important to remember that the problem cannot be solved within a year or even within five years. Several decades of work is required to solve an issue of this scale. Firstly, it is important to ensure that the physical safety of the villagers is ensured through a protracted campaign against the Naxalites. This can be our strategy in the short run.

In the medium and long run, we have to ensure that the development process which has been carried on in various extents in the rest of the country should be similarly carried out in these regions as well. After all, this was how the Naxals took birth, isn't it? They gave the argument that the exploitation by local landed elites and the 'sham' nature of democracy was the reason for the exploitation of the peasants and the workers, and thus took upon them the task of bringing a 'revolution'. Combating this kind of ideology is not going to be easy by any stretch of the imagination, especially when exploitation of the peasants is a fact of life. But it has to be done if one of the last frontiers of Indian democracy has to be successfully overcome.


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