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Chhattisgarh polls: Bastar holds the key

Krishnakumar P in Raipur | November 14, 2008 02:04 IST

Chhattisgarh's Maoist-hit Bastar region, which will go to polls on Friday, holds the key not only to the 39-seat first phase elections, but to the state too.

Whichever party wins a majority of the 12 seats in the region which has the highest number of tribal and women voters, will stand to gain in the final analysis.

The civilian militia movement of Salwa Judum has emerged as the main issue in the region that is rich in natural resources.

The 12 constituencies that will go to poll on Friday are: Bastar region: Bastar, Chitrakote, Jagdalpur, Keskal, Kondagaon; Dantewada region: Dantewada and Konta; Kanker region: Kanker, Banupratap, Antagadh; Bijapur and Narayanpur.

Of these the key constituencies are Dantewada and Konta. The Dantewada area is the worst-hit in the battle between the Salwa Judum and Maoists in the region and the Communist Party of India has fired up things by making the movement the main poll plank.

Dantewada will see the architect of the movement Mahendra Karma, the leader of the opposition go head-to-head with Manish Kunjam of the Communist Party of India, who has been the most vociferous opponent of the movement and moved his home constituency Konta to fight against Karma.

The CPI is opposed to the notion of the security forces arming civilians and also using them as human shields, while displacing thousands from their villagers. What makes the contest interesting is the response the CPI has received.
Though the movement is not with its share of supporters, Kunjam's campaign - he is the president of the Adivasi Mahasaba and has led the local campaign against big industries coming into the heavily forested area - has found tremendous support.

The Bharatiya Janata Party also is in the fray, but unlike other constituencies where it is the frontrunner, in Dantewada it has been relegated to the role of spoiler.

Not for the first time in his life, Karma seems to be in shaky ground. He is not in the good books of the locals - his son eleoped with a Marwari girl and he was caught on camera distributing cash to voters.

But Karma has been in a tight spot earlier and has emerged from stiffer tests thanks largely to the Karmas in the region. Some 35 villages are said to be populated with people who are in one way or the other related to Karma.

His supporters say they will give the tribal leader a boost in the constituency with about 1.7 lakh voters.

This battle is also interesting for two more reasons. Karma won his first assembly election in 1980. He contested on a CPI ticket. He defeated a Kunjam - Dinesh - by 756 votes. Five years later, he was handed his first assembly defeat, again by a Kunjam - Arjun Singh [Images] won by 800-odd votes.

2008 is set to see the revenge of both the Kunjam tribe and the CPI. 

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