Indian Voters Defy Threats From Guerrillas and Go to the Polls

By Venus Upadhayaya, Epoch Times
December 15, 2018 Updated: December 18, 2018

After a month of counting, regional election results in India are in, and in Chattisgarh state—where Maoist guerrillas had threatened to cut off the fingers of voters—the results are a good sign for Indian democracy.

Five states went to the polls in November and December, including the central Indian state of Chattisgarh, India’s hotbed of left-wing extremism, or what Indians called Naxalism (named for the region of a peasant revolt in 1967).

The Ministry of Home Affairs lists 106 out of India’s 722 districts as having active left-wing extremists. Many of the movement’s leaders operate from the jungles of Chattisgarh, making the Chattisgarh election a battle ground between the armed Maoist and the Indian state.

In the district of Dantewada, home to top guerrilla leader, Muppala Lakshmana Rao, Maoist had attempted to disrupt the poll by warning that anyone seen with an inked index finger—the sign of having voted—would lose the finger.

Rao is one of the most wanted persons in India with a bounty on his head of over $500,000, according to Chandra Mishra, strategic advisor with Polltics, a New Delhi-based election strategy consultancy.

Yet despite the threats, voter turnout was a high 76 percent in Chattisgarh, paving the way for the National Congress Party (INC) to form the state government after 15 years in opposition. Prime Minister Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, lost and state BJP leader, Raman Singh, resigned. BJP also lost power in two of the other 4 states that went to the poles—Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan.

Aim of Maoists in India

Left-wing extremism has plagued India for decades and Chattisgarh, a state rich in forests and minerals has borne the brunt of it. Its forests provide good cover for guerrillas, and its tribal communities, which live in these forested regions and are largely cut off from the urban centers of governance, have emerged as the most vulnerable.

The left-wing extremist groups try to legitimize their existence in the region by exploiting the narrative that the state is oppressing the tribal communities. According to the Left Wing Extremism Division of the Home Affairs Ministry, the main agenda of the Maoists is to wage war against the Indian state and set up a communist regime.

The strong voter turnout didn’t come easily though. The central government deployed nearly 100,000 security personnel to Chattisgarh during the first phase of the vote that happened on Nov. 12.

In the 15 days leading up to  the elections, Maoist groups carried out about half-a-dozen attacks killing 13 people including a journalist who was covering the campaign, according to the newspaper, The Hindu. Then just one day before the vote, Maoist detonated an improvised explosive device that killed a security personnel.

Government Policies and National Politics

To combat Maoism, the Indian government in New Delhi has a National Policy and Action Plan that involves security, governance, and development that it implements in coordination with the democratically elected governments of Maoist affected states.

A list prepared by government of India in April 2018, shows the reducing influence of left-wing extremism. This year, the government removed 44 districts from the list of 126 Maoist infested districts in India.

This [left-wing extremism] ideology has to be countered by suitable socio-economic measures and those are in place and taking place. That’s why their areas of influence are reducing,” India’s Minister of State for External Affairs, Vijay Kumar Singh told The Epoch Times in an interview in New York.

Singh is a member of Parliament from the ruling party BJP, which the Maoists consider their number one enemy. BJP has governments in 16 states  ruling over a total of 51 percent of the Indian population, according to IndiaSpend, a data journalism initiative.

“BJP is a pro-Hindu party. Naxal ideology is of pro-proletariat kind of things. They treat BJP as a party of capitalists. And BJP treats the Naxals as number one enemy of the nation,” said Mishra from Polltics.

Mishra believes the left-wing extremist don’t see INC as grave a threat as they see the BJP.

“One thing we need to see, what kind of measures the new government will take to contain the Naxals,” Mishra said.

Follow Venus on Twitter: @venusupadhayaya