People’s Truth: The Elections in Chhattisgarh
Posted by n3wday on June 14, 2009
This article was published on People’s Truth.
ASSEMBLY ELECTIONS IN CHATTISGARH—
A Fraud of Himalayan dimensions
The reactionary ruling classes had once again enacted their routine drama of elections to state assemblies in the months of November-December 2008. In Chattisgarh the drama was enacted in two phases—on Nov 14 and 20. The reasons given by the election commission for conducting the polls in two phases were: to muster enough forces for ensuring security to the polling personnel, transport of EVMs to and from the polling booths and to confront the “threat” from the Maoists who had issued a call for election boycott. In most of the Maoist stronghold areas in the state i.e., in 39 of the 90 Assembly constituencies, the polls were held on November 14.
The entire state, particularly the Bastar range, was turned into a war zone with rifle-wielding policemen and central forces present everywhere while helicopters made incessant rounds over the forest terrain of the state. Polling personnel were transported to the polling stations by air in most of the Maoist stronghold areas, and they, along with the EVMs, were brought back after the polling in the same way. 40 helipads were constructed for the purpose. In several places re polling was held twice and at some places, even thrice, as they did not dare to venture into some interior areas or because Maoist guerrillas took away the EVMs. Overall, the entire exercise seemed more like a war exercise than the so-called electoral exercise; it was a war of bullets than a war of the ballot. All in all, around 50,000 troops were deployed in the 39 constituencies on Nov 14. Besides the 16 CRPF Battalions, two SSB Battalions, one Mizo Battalion and one STF Battalion (20 Battalions in total) that were already engaged against the Maoist movement on a permanent basis, an additional 40 Battalions i.e., 40,000 personnel belonging to CRPF, BSF and CISF were deployed for conducting the election fraud. Needless to say, it was an election at gun-point. According to media reports 350 companies of central forces were sent this time as against 125 companies during the last Assembly elections. The break-up of the deployed forces was as follows:
In Bijapur and Dantewada, 80companies of BSF and 15 companies of SSB.
In Bastar, Narayanpur and Kanker, 55 companies of CRF;
In Durg, Rajnandgaon and Kabirdham, 35 companies of RPF;
In the above constituencies 150 companies of state armed force were deployed.
The election commission, the political parties, police officials and the media have claimed that the elections were highly successful in the Maoist strongholds and that people had enthusiastically and voluntarily come forward to exercise their vote, that democracy had won, that polling was free and fair, and such endless trash. But one would never know what proportion of the votes was polled due to coercion and fear psyche created by these gun-toting mercenaries, and what proportion due to rigging and fraudulent methods, apart from the other factors. At least twelve cases of bogus polling where votes were placed in the EVMs after the completion of polling came to light. In one case highlighted by the papers, votes were placed in the EVMs while being brought back in a truck after the election, under the direction of a CRPF official in Konta Assembly constituency. The official was later suspended. Konta incident was only the tip of the iceberg. Hundreds of cases of such bogus polling had taken place all over Bastar range with the active connivance of the polling officials, police and agents of the political parties. And in the government-run Salwa Judum concentration camps, camp residents were herded together and taken to the polling booths to cast their votes. Anyone who refused to cast his/her vote would face the wrath of the police and Salwa Judum goons. In several villages people fled to the jungle when the police and polling personnel arrived. Their votes, of course, were cast!
Either you boycott, or have your fingers chopped off! But what is the truth?
While the fascist central and state governments held the elections at gun-point and the civil administration-police resorted to brutal methods of coercion on the people to ensure a high percentage of polling, they also unleashed a Goebbelsian propaganda that the Maoists had chopped off the fingers of people who cast their votes. Even the BBC correspondent Salman Ravi reported that posters were put up by Maoists that fingers would be cut off if votes were cast. On November 15, in a special editorial in the Hindi daily, Dainik Bhaskar, similar lies were written. The writer, Sanjay Ahirwal, claimed that Maoists had cut off the fingers of several people! The media, owned and controlled by the parasitic corporate-financial elite, will go to any extent to lend legitimacy to their so-called democratic institutions even if these are, in reality, the most authoritarian in nature. They also go to any extent in dubbing anyone opposing their reactionary institutions as terrorists. It is this criminal, parasitical class that cannot survive without illegal detentions, cruel tortures and brutal murders of those who oppose the system. Chopping off fingers and other limbs, blinding the eyes, giving electric shocks, and resorting to other third degree methods is normal for these sadists in power. Maoists never use coercive methods on the people. That is why the toiling, suffering, oppressed masses love the Maoists and are proud of the PLGA. Maoists appeal to those who write such rubbish to come to Dandakaranya to prove any such single instance if they have any integrity and honesty.
The fact was there was no election campaigning in most of the interior areas. In hundreds of villages there was no sign of an ongoing election—no banners, no leaflets, no posters, no representatives of the parties which were said to be contesting the elections. Hardly anyone knew the names of the candidates. Yet, these villages recorded a high percentage of votes!! Such is the story of the “democratic” elections in Chattisgarh.
And where some kind of campaign did take place, the candidates of virtually every political party tried to woo the voters through generous offers of cash. The Congress leader and candidate for Dantewada Assembly seat, Mahendra Karma, notorious for leading the cruel state-sponsored terrorist campaign called Salwa Judum, was caught red-handed on November 6 when he was offering several hundred-rupee notes to a woman voter in Bodili village in Geedam block in Dantewada. A FIR was filed against this fraudster. If Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his allies spent hundreds of crores of rupees to buy the support of MPs during the No Trust motion in the Lok Sabha a couple of months earlier, what is there to be surprised if a Mahendra Karma offered notes for votes to the adivasi voters! In their lust for power every Party competed with others in pouring out huge amounts of currency notes in exchange for votes. But the anger and hatred of the people against Mahendra Karma ran so high due to the blood-bath unleashed by him in the name of Salwa Judum, that even his notes failed to get him enough votes to cling on to the Assembly seat for another term.
The promises made by the Congress and BJP—the two major parties that contested the elections in Chattisgarh—make amusing stories. First, the BJP government announced that it would supply rice at Rs. 3 a kg to the poor. Congress came out with the offer of Rs.2. Not to be outwitted, BJP announced that it would slash it to Re.1 a kg if voted back to power. And also free salt to the poor. These promises by the rival parties in their dog-fight for power reveal at least one glaring fact—that poverty, hunger and starvation of the people of Chattisgarh are so serious that every party is compelled to speak in terms of providing the most basic human needs such as rice and salt.
Maoist Boycott Campaign
As soon as the election dates were declared by the Election Commission, both the Central Committee and the Special Zonal Committee of Dandakaranya of CPI (Maoist) issued a call for the boycott of the elections. The statement from the CC pointed out: “These elections, as any other elections to the legislative bodies in the present semi-colonial semi-feudal India, cannot bring even an iota of change in people’s lives but will only further enslave the masses. They are merely a safety valve to let out the fury and frustration of the masses by giving them the option of choosing between various bands of dacoits. The CC, CPI(Maoist), calls upon the vast masses of the country to boycott the elections which bring nothing but greater misery and destitution to the vast majority of the population and merely replace one band of dacoits with another.’
The statement of DKSZC called upon the people to boycott the parties which come to them seeking votes. It stated: “61 years of fake independence has not solved the basic issues of the people. More than 50% of the population remains illiterate and over 70 % survive on just Rs. 20 a day. The condition in Chhattisgarh is even worse in spite of its rich natural and mineralwealth. After the formation of the state of Chhattisgarh it has been under the Congress for three years until 2003 and since then under the BJP. Both these comprador-feudal parties had handed over the natural wealth of Chhattisgarh—its rivers, minerals, forest wealth, transport, education etc—to the imperialists, CBB and the mafia gangs in the name of ‘development’. Mines in Pallamad, Chargaon, Raoghat, Kuvvemari, Budhivarimad, Amdaimetta, Bailadilla and other places were leased out to Tatas, NIKKO, Godavari Ispat, Raipur Alloys and other big industrial houses. MOUs have been signed with Tatas, Mittal, Jindal and Essar for setting up steel industries and the government is forcing the adivasis to part with 50,000 acres of land for the benefit of these CBB houses. To provide water and power to these companies it is planning to set up Bodhghat project on Indravati River. Dalli-Raoghat-Jagdalpur rail line and several highway projects are meant to facilitate the exploitation and plunder of the resources and displace thousands of adivasis from their villages. And to suppress the democratic struggles of the people on their just demands these parties had begun to deploy the CRPF from April 2003, increased the number continuously, set up Special Forces and from June 2005 unleashed the most savage state-sponsored terrorist campaign called salwa judum.
“ The armed agrarian revolutionary guerrilla war under the leadership of our Party is continuing in Dandkaranya since the past 28 years and the people of the entire region are marching ahead to establish revolutionary people’s power in the vast countryside. Janathana sarkars, the organs of new democratic power have sprung up in several areas in DK. Revolutionary people’s governments are the only alternative to the rotten, wretched, exploitative parliamentary rule which is nothing but the dictatorial rule of the feudal-comprador forces in collusion with the imperialists. We call upon the masses of DK to boycott the sham elections and to establish their own organs of revolutionary people’s power in entire Dandakaranya.”
The entire Party, PLGA and the revolutionary masses were mobilized for the political campaign of exposing the fraud of parliamentary democracy and its institutions; exposing the corrupt, unscrupulous and criminal politicians and the parliamentary political parties; holding mass meetings in hundreds of villages and educating the people through speeches and cultural performances; distributing lakhs of leaflets all over Dandakaranya and putting up posters and banners; and other methods of propaganda. The warnings from the Maoists and the road blocks and ambushes put off all the election parties from carrying on the campaign in hundreds of villages. And even in places where the Maoist presence was not much significant, the campaigning was on a low key and the candidates or representatives of the political parties were accompanied by huge contingents of police escorts. The police warned the parties not to venture into Maoist strongholds stating that they will not be able to provide adequate protection and cannot guarantee their safety. And as Election Day approached, thousands of people were mobilized along with PLGA squads and revolutionary organizations of the masses, to put up barricades all along the roads that led to the polling booths. The authorities had to cancel or shift the booths in several villages claiming it was not possible to send the polling personnel to these ‘hyper-sensitive’ areas. The polling personnel in most of the booths in the interior villages had to be transported by helicopters, ten of which were engaged by the government for the purpose, and the ballot boxes had to be shifted after the elections in the same manner.
Even using helicopters seemed dangerous after the Maoists fired at two of these and killed one flight engineer in one incident near Pidiya. Immediately after the last incident which took place on Nov 14, when the drone was used to shift the EVMs after the polling in Koilbeda in Bijapur, all other trips were cancelled and the EVMs were shifted after two days by road under heavy security. The Maoist campaign was not only political but also a military one. The entire PLGA and revolutionary masses were pressed into action with the aim of inflicting maximum possible damage to the police, central para-military forces and Salwa Judum goons. The scale of the campaign could be gauged by the fact that around 400 polling parties had not reached the headquarters with the ballot boxes even until the evening of November 15.
The BJP government in the state and the Congress-led government at the Centre tried to create a reign of terror by amassing the police and para-military forces in the districts of Dantewada, Bijapur, Kanker, Narayanpur, Bastar, Rajnandgaon who indulged in arrests, torture and murders of the people in several villages where the revolutionary movement is strong. People were intimidated and threatened that if they boycotted elections their houses would be destroyed and they would be killed. On Nov 11, three comrades of the people’s militia—Jaggu, Kulle and Lalu—were arrested from Kodenaar village in Koyilbeda area and shot dead in fake encounter. Lalu was a militia commander and Area Command member. Media reports falsely claimed that seven Naxals were killed in the said encounter. After the firing on the IAF helicopter near Pidiya village, the CRPF mercenaries went on a rampage attacking innocent villagers unconnected with the incident. The “bravery” of Manmohan Singh’s mercenaries could be seen from their murder of an 80-year-old adivasi in Pidiya village soon after the helicopter was attacked and a flight engineer was killed on Nov 14. Comrade Ganesh Udke, the secretary of Darbha Divisional committee of CPI(Maoist), gave the details of this dastardly act of the CRPF jawans and called upon the democratic organizations and people at large to condemn the ghastly murder of an elderly man.
According to media reports voting was disrupted at polling centres in 14 police station areas. While the reports in TV channels and the All India Radio announced this fact immediately after the polling was completed on Nov 14, by the next day however, it was claimed that moderate to heavy polling was reported from all these places! In fact, the percentages began to swell with every passing hour from the night of 14th increasing from 40 % and reaching 65 % in several areas. There were many centres where the polling parties had not even gone but reported heavy polling. Slowly facts began to trickle in, even if they are only the tip of the ice-berg, that at many centres votes were placed in the ballot boxes on the way itself and the polling personnel, accompanied by the CRPF and policemen, returned without even going to the polling centres. These came to light only in places where the voters or the political parties complained that voting was not held at the centres.
Several counter-offensive operations by the PLGA and people’s militia units were successfully carried out in the month-long election boycott campaign.
Some of these incidents are given below:
** On Nov 9, two BJP leaders, Ramesh Rathor and Suryaprakash Singh chowhan, were annihilated in Bijapur district. Ramesh Rathor was the vice president of Hindu chauvinist BJP. Both of them were making arrangements for an election meeting in Totapara near Chota Gudra. Their vehicle was burnt to ashes. Over a score of people’s militia and Bhumkaal militia members carried out the attack. A Congress leader, Trinath Singh Thakur, was also annihilated. Trinath Thakur was the Congress party president of Dantewada block involved in passing on information to the police that led to the murder of two members of revolutionary mass organizations in Balud near Dantewada in May 2007 by the police. These incidents demonstrated the anger and class hatred of the masses against the leaders of BJP and Congress who had played havoc with the lives of adivasis by unleashing Salwa Judum goons and states armed forces on the revolutionary masses. These incidents had an adverse impact on the electioneering by various parties in the region.
** On Nov 4, Maoists fired at a helicopter after it took off from Koilbeda after a public meeting addressed by BJP leaders. A minister of Chattisgarh, Vidhan Chandrakar, and an MLA were in the helicopter but there were no casualties.
** On November 11, a fierce encounter took place between the PLGA and the police in Sarguja district in North Chhattisgarh in which the IGP BS Maravi was injured. The incident shook the top brass of the police which had been boasting that the Maoists have been eliminated in entire Sarguja.
** On November 14, another Rusian-made helicopter MI-18 was fired at near Pidiya in Bijapur district when it was proceeding from Koilbeda to Bijapur after the polling. A flight engineer was killed in the incident.
** People’s Militia units seized the Electronic Voting Machines from Rengagondi, Hangwa, Totar, Adnaar, Kudur, Tumdibal in Narayanpur district; Handawada, Mangana, Kidriraas, Manganaar, Muler, Pandevar, Gorkha, Chintalnar in Dantewada district; Kaamata, Badepinajari and several other villages in Kanker district.
** At around 7.30 am on the polling day (November 14), two SPOs and one DAR police were injured as they stepped on a pressure mine placed by PLGA guerrillas near Gorkha village under Bhejji PS in South Bastar division. The pressure mine was placed near the posters and banner put up at a distance of 75 metres from the polling centre. When the policemen tried to remove the posters the mine went off. The injured policemen were flown by helicopter to the hospital.
** In the after-noon of Nov 15, an anti-landmine vehicle was blown up near Mukaram culvert between Chintalnar and Chintagufa in Dantewada district. A Head Constable and one constable, belonging to the 55th Battalion of CRPF, were seriously injured in the incident. They were opening up roads for the polling parties.
** On Nov 16, seven CRPF jawans, including a Deputy Commandant, were seriously injured in a land-mine blast triggered by Maoists near Konde village on the road leading from Durgkondul to Pakhanjur. The incident took place at around 7 am when the CRPF party was returning from Pakhanjur and proceeding to Kanker after completing the poll drama.
** On November 21, PLGA guerrillas triggered off a land-mine near Bhainsgaon in North Bastar in which a Bolero vehicle carrying policemen escaped by a hairbreadth. As part of the boycott election campaign Maoists had blocked the road going from Bhanupratap Pur to Narayanpur. When the police tried to remove the trees on the road the mine went off. Some policemen received minor injuries.
** On November 25, when policemen were returning after conducting re polling, PLGA guerrillas ambushed them in Mardapal area wiping out seven policemen and injuring three. Five of these were commandos of the STF and two were from the DAR. The re polling was conducted under heavy security and fearing attack by PLGA 300 policemen, including the CRPF and STF, were coming on foot when Maoist guerrillas blasted the mine near a culvert between Glavand and Dholmundri villages under Mardapal PS.
The naked fraud of the so-called Indian parliamentary democracy
The re polling in Gougunda in Konta Assembly constituency on December 6 illustrates in the most vivid manner, the naked fraud of the so-called Indian parliamentary democracy. Gougunda centre witnessed polling three times due to complaints of fake polling. The polling personnel and the CRPF did not reach the booth on November 14 when the polling was to have taken place fearing Maoist attacks. The re polling was conducted on Nov 24.
The polling personnel and the police officials did not go to the polling booth again but instead decided that the best way was to place ballots in the boxes by safely sitting in their vans. They managed to put some fake votes but were caught after the act. Cases were filed against 15 polling personnel and seven were suspended from their jobs. It was, of course, a rare instance of exposure of the usual electoral fraud. It was also a rare instance in the history of the so-called democratic elections when polling had to be conducted thrice in the presence of the district SP and thousand armed men and where security forces outnumbered the registered voters. Around 1000 CRPF and police personnel went to the village of Gougunda to enforce the poll. Of the 711 registered voters there, none turned up initially. Well aware that the policemen would force them to cast their votes, the people of Gougunda and surrounding villages fled to the jungle. The furious policemen and the polling personnel searched for them and finally caught hold of ten people who had to cast their votes at gun-point. If such has been the result when the administration, with the help of a Battalion of policemen, tried to conduct polling in a single booth one can imagine what would have been the level of rigging resorted to in the Nov 14 polling in the 39 Assembly constituencies where Maoists have a strong presence.
In Keshkal Assembly constituency re polling was ordered in Konguda, Banachapai, Baarada (Bhongapalli) polling centres on complaints that fake voting was resorted to. The polling officials did not even go to the polling centres but placed votes in the boxes. There were 1547 registered voters at the three centres. 20 officials were suspended for bogus voting and FIR was filed against them. The reason for the fake voting was fear of attacks by Maoists. Incidents like these occurred at several polling centres but only a fraction of these found place in media reports. A case was filed against 17 polling officials and three CRPF officers for having indulged in bogus polling. The polling staff did not go to the three polling centres in Bhongapalli, Farasgaon Kasai and Jhakadi but placed votes in the boxes. Re polling was conducted on Dec 3 at these three centres. In Anthagadh constituency, polling personnel did not go to the polling centre in Partap Pur, Chota Pakhanjur, Chote Bethiya, Aakmetta, according to a complaint made by a NCP candidate contesting in Anthagadh to the election commission. In Sangam centre, Buruka Swaroopnagar polling personnel stayed for a short while and returned without completing the polling. They placed votes on the way. In polling centre 52 in Maraknaar (K) Ramakrishna Nagar, out of 504 voters, 503 were said to have exercised their franchise. This unusual incident raised many eye-brows and the Congress candidate demanded an enquiry alleging that BJP in collusion with the polling officials had resorted to fake voting. It demanded repolling at the centre. In Chotabethiya and Akametta polling centres covering 11 villages in Anthagadh constituency repolling was held on Dec 3 under heaviest ever security in the constituency. The police and para-military forces were lined up along the entire route from Bande to the polling centres and in some of the villages they ordered the people to go to the polling booths and place their votes. No wonder, the election officials claimed that 74 % votes were polled which was never heard of in the past at these centres. Fear, obviously, ensures “democracy”. The more fear and intimidation people are subjected to, the more the increase in percentage of polling. A newspaper reported that if re polling was undertaken in centres where there was zero percentage or single digit polling on Nov 14, the percentage may jump to over 65 %. Not a single vote was cast at six polling centres in Dantewada and six in Konta Assembly constituencies. The people of around 50 villages falling under these polling centres, remained unshaken in the midst of police threats, intimidation and coercion to cast their votes. At five centres, people led by the militia and PLGA, attacked the booths and carried away the EVMs. Four CRPF personnel were injured in these attacks. In Bijapur constituency, in Takilod, Kadenaar and Hallur centres not a single vote was cast. Only 7 votes were polled at the Mulasoli centre in Konta. EVMs were seized from three polling centres—Kamta, Badepinjori and Hilchur—in Anthagadh constituency.