The ongoing campaign for the panchayat elections, being facilitated by local administrations in various districts, has brought to light the heartening fact that the influence of Maoist ultras has gone down significantly in most of the areas which were once considered their strongholds. With fear of violence by rebels receding, people in large parts of Koraput, Malkangiri and Rayagada – districts which had the reputation of being Maoist citadels – are taking active part in the campaign. They are expected to turn up at the polling booths in large numbers.
In around 500 villages in Narayanpatana, Laxmipur, Boipariguda, Nandapur, Pottangi, Bandhugaon, Borigumma and Lamataput blocks, the Maoists once used to rule the roost. In the past their poll boycott calls had a numbing impact on people who did not step out of their homes on the polling day for fear of being beaten up or even being shot dead. Thanks to the sustained police drive against the rebels, that fear is now gone. Even more importantly, the developmental work undertaken by the government in the Maoist-affected belt has convinced people about the futility of supporting the rebels.
Intensive combing operations by Central and state security forces have been taken up in almost all the Maoist-affected areas during the last one and a half years. Now with preparations in the final phase for panchayat polling, the administration is reported to have identified around 260 sensitive booths in the rebel strongholds. This number used to be more than 700 in the past when rebel activities were at their peak.
While rebel activities have come down significantly in almost the entire Malkangiri district, in Koraput they appear to be on the back-foot almost everywhere except Boipariguda. But senior police officers are quite confident about bringing the situation completely under control. Things are likely to improve further in the coming days with senior government officials hoping that people will now start ignoring the boycott calls of Maoists.
The waning influence of the rebels is great news for the votaries of democracy who believe that people’s participation in the election process is a must to ensure that elected governments are truly representative. It is even more important for people to turn out at the polling booths in large numbers in the elections for grassroots democratic institutions like gram panchayats and zila parishads.
The Maoist rebels, who do not believe in democracy, have been coercing people not to take part in voting for the panchayat elections or any other election for that matter. It also suits their disruptive agenda because they do not believe in development and modernization in the true sense of the term. The more underdeveloped the people, the easier for these merchants of death to keep them under their spell. But with people now openly defying the diktat of the ultras, it is now clear that democracy cannot be held to ransom by outlaws such as the Maoists forever.