It was one of the most high profile first phases of elections that this country has seen in recent years.. in Chhattisgarh, which took place on Monday. In what is being seen as a vote of confidence in India’s democratic setup, 67% of the electorate in the Maoist-hit districts of the Bastar region and Rajnandgaon came out to exercise their franchise, the heaviest turnout in a decade with some tribal constituencies witnessing up to 75% voting. A total of 143 candidates from 12 constituencies are in the fray in the Bastar division and six constituencies of Rajnandgaon district, which together account for an electorate of 29,33,200, in the first of the two-phase polls to the 90-member assembly. In 2008, the overall polling percentage in the state was 66%. A lion’s share of the credit for the encouraging voter turnout must go to the Election Commission (EC), the security forces, and the government officers at the ground level. There were 85,000-plus security men in the area and the EC deployed 2,700 CCTV cameras to ensure that there was no rigging.
However, it’s best not to get swayed by the numbers that came out to vote but keep an eye on the other strands — indicators — that this round of the election threw up. While Maoist-hit Dantewada saw 67% voting (55% in 2008), there were certain other Red army-controlled areas, especially those in the forested parts of the constituencies, which saw a low turnout. For example, Bijapur, Konta, Antagarh saw 24, 40 and 58% polling. So one could argue that the Red Army is losing ground but its traditional strongholds seem to be intact. The loss of ground can also push its members to look for new areas in other states. Second, 15-odd booths in Konta, Bijapur and Dantewada, which fall mostly in the Salwa Judum zones or were shifted to some other place, recorded zero voting. This is shameful and only shows that despite the disbanding of the Salwa Judum, the fear of these lumpen elements still exists.
Whichever party comes to power in Chhattisgarh in December will have its task cut out: it must build on the faith the people have reposed in the political system but at the same time will have to be aware that poll statistics do not always bring out the true picture. There are too many hidden issues that need to be addressed to ensure that in the coming years we can have elections without such an exceptionally heavy presence of security forces, which has made democracy look weak on the ground — an untenable situation in an area which faces so many challenges.