Low voter turnout in Bastar a cause of concern
In Maoist-hit areas, holding free and fair elections is just one part of the challenge; the bigger challenge lies in getting ballot boxes, polling officials and security men safely out of the Maoist strongholds once the elections are over.comment Updated: Apr 14, 2014 02:01 IST
It is tough to hold elections in the Maoist-hit areas, also known as the Red Corridor, which include parts of Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal.
In these areas, holding free and fair elections is just one part of the challenge; the bigger challenge lies in getting ballot boxes, polling officials and security men safely out of the Maoist strongholds once the elections are over.
While the 2013 assembly polls in the Maoist stronghold of Bastar were virtually violence-free, the same cannot be said for the general election, which was held there on April 10.
In the run-up to the polls, there were occasional skirmishes between the Red Army and the security men, but the first major report of deaths came after the elections were over.
According to reports, at least 14 persons, including civilians, security men and polling officials died in multiple attacks by Maoists in the Bastar region last week.
The turnout this time in Bastar was low (52%) vis-à-vis the assembly polls (70%). In the Maoist-hit areas of Bihar, the turnout was 53%, 9 percentage points more than in 2009. In Jharkhand, the four seats where Maoists have a strong presence went to polls on April 10 and they were peaceful.
But advisories are out for the second phase (April 17) and there are fears that Maoists are desperate to execute a big attack on the security forces.
So why did the polling percentage drop so drastically in Bastar? While there is no official admission of this, it is well known in the security circles that there were not enough security personnel and those deployed arrived late.
During the 2013 elections, the troops infiltrated the Maoist areas almost a month in advance whereas this time around they reached only in March end, barely 10 days before the polls.
It is important for the forces to arrive early in such areas because then they get the time to familiarise themselves with the topography and also go inside the forests to flush out the Maoist cadres.
Along with this, the March 11 attack, in which 12 security persons were killed in Sukma, must have had an effect on the people.
The low turnout in Bastar — a region that suffers from development deficit — should not be taken lightly because here the State is fighting a low-intensity see-saw battle against the Maoists. In such a scenario, it is important for the State to stamp its authority in a positive fashion.