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WB: Maoist terror puts voters in quandary
Sunil K Mukhopadhyay in Belpahari, West Bengal | April 09, 2006 17:34 IST
Terror stalks the remote, poverty-stricken, under-developed villages in West Midnapore district bordering Jharkhand, a hotbed of Maoist activities where voters are in two-minds whether to vote or not, fearing reprisal from the ultras who have given a vote boycott call.
"This time the situation is difficult. We do not know what to do. We may cast our votes, but what will happen afterwards? The Maoists can kill us for voting," said Mangal Soren of Dangardiha village where two Communist Party of India (Marxist) leaders were killed before their families by Maoists last month.
"The Maoists have asked us why we should vote when there was no development in the area," Krishna Mahato, another villager told a visiting PTI correspondent.
The massive deployment of security forces in the district, which goes to the polls on April 17 in the first phase, has so far failed to boost their morale. "Security forces have been deployed for the election. They will not be here forever. We will have to continue to live here," Mahato said.
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Whether it is Dangardiha or Birghi, Amlasol or Amjharna, situated at a stone's throw from adjoining Jharkhand, the picture is almost the same in the far-flung villages under Binpur constituency.
From the police administration to candidates, everyone admitted that the people in the areas were afraid of Maoist violence, but nevertheless hoped that they would vote in the election. SPC
"It is true that the people are a bit scared, but we are taking all measures to counter the maoists. We are combing the jungles, doing area domination job with deployment of forces. We think ultimately the villagers will exercise their franchise," Ajay Nand, district superintendent of police said.
Despite his hope, the people in this area, which has witnessed a number of violent incidents, including the killing of three policemen, and a villager in a landmine blast in the last two months, are yet to be convinced.
"We heard that the Maoists have given a vote boycott call. They have threatened to chop off our fingers if we cast votes," Nagen Hansda, a resident of Birghi village said. Posters calling for a boycott of the election by the Maoists were seized from Amlasole last week. Admitting that the Maoists had given such a call, the SP said that this was nothing new for the naxalites.
In the past also they had boycotted elections. The Maoist phenomenon was being blown out of proportion by the media, he claimed.
Many said that the Maoists were able to penetrate the areas taking advantage of abject poverty and underdevelopment. Leaving the metal road that leads to Banspahari, as one enters Bhulaveda range in which these villages are nestled, signs of underdevelopment and poverty are telltale.
"There is hardly any road, water is scarce. In the absence of irrigation, we can grow crops that feed us only for a few months. For the rest of the year, we have to thrive on food from the jungle. We sell rope made of babui grass and firewood to somehow manage our livelihood," said a resident of Ukhuldoba village, from where two women members of the CPI (Maoist) were arrested in February.
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A massive deployment of central para-military and state security forces has been made to instill a sense of security among the electorate. Security forces have erected bunkers and were on patrol in difficult terrain and on the road leading to Belpahari and Kankrajhore. At many places BSF personnel, armed with mine detectors, were sanitising the area.
What might be seen as a silver lining in the cloud, Mansaram Mandi, a resident of Ukhuldoba, however, said he has not heard of any boycott call and would vote. Both Jharkhand Party and CPI-M, the two major contenders in the constituency, also expressed confidence that the people would participate in the poll.
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"They may have some fear, we have to remove it. We will tell them if you want to defeat CPI-M, who ignored development all those years, you have to vote," Jharkhand Party candidate from Binpur Chunibala Hansda said.
Former state minister and CPI-M nominee Shambhu Mandi was not ready to accept that the villagers would not vote. "Birsa Munda, Sidho Kano who fought the British, were their leaders. Why should the adivasis (tribals) be afraid of so-called Maoists who are representatives of zamindars," he asked.