The tribals of Gadchiroli seem to be living in perennial fear of naxalites. The threat is so visible that it prevented the tribals from filing nominations for the June 24 mid-term panchayat elections in 139 gram panchayats.
The Maoists have left the Gadchiroli district administration paralyzed. To a large extent, they have also been able to derail local governance by instilling fear among the leaders of different political parties and representatives of local bodies. The naxals have managed to create a dent into the democratic structure at the grassroots-level thereby blatantly challenging the security forces and the administration.
According to available information, the elections authorities received only four nominations for 435 posts of gram panchayat members in 139 gram panchayats till the last date of filing the nomination papers on June 9.
The elections were necessitated following the en-masse resignations of panchayat members in north and south Gadchiroli because of naxal diktat. Besides, three zilla parishad members of south Gadchiroli, including Madni Bogami, resigned from the membership when red rebels threatened her and her family last month. Bogami’s husband, Malu Bogami, a senior Congress leader and Gadchiroli ZP president, was kidnapped and killed by left-wing extremists in 2002 for defying the Maoists.
No nomination papers were filed for panchayat membership to almost all the areas in the region, barring two in Sironcha and one each at Aheri and Nagepalli in the district, putting administrative officials in a fix.
Talking to HT, the district collector Abhishek Krishna on Thursday confirmed that the election officers received only four nomination papers for the ensuing mid-term local-self government elections. "I have sought reports from the concerned officers in this regard," he said.
According to Krishna, the district administration was trying hard to convince locals to participate in the democratic process. "However, the response is very poor," he said.
Notably, Aheri, Sironcha, Bhamragarh, Etapalli and Dhanora tahsils are grappling with rebel menace. In most areas under these tahsils, tribals are apprehensive of the naxalite attack. An honest and pro-people tahsildar of Bhamragarh, Suraj G Kawadgade was also forced to resign by the Maoists in April this year. Kawadgade, who took voluntary retirement, was known for his people-oriented activities, which probably did not go down well with ultras.
Almost all the panchayat members of south and north Gadchiroli, along with several office-bearers of ruling Congress, NCP and BJP have resigned from their posts in the district, recently. “As many as 71 elected representatives have resigned from their posts till now, “informs Sumant Bhange, the chief executive officer (CEO) of Gadchiroli. Naxalites had warned them to give up their posts or face the dire consequences.
Leaders of different political parties who have resigned include: BJP district vice president Sunil Biswas, BJP district general secretary, Bhikaji Atram, Bhamragarh tahsil BJP chief Joga Usendi, Bhamragarh tahsil Congress president Raju Wadde and Bhamragarh NCP chief Ramji Pungati.
The region also witnessed a series of political killings, including the murders of Kewal Atkamwar, the former vice president of Etapalli Panchayat Samiti and tahsil chief of NCP and the senior Congress leader and chairman of Bhamragarh panchayat samiti, Bahadurshah Alam, who failed to follow the naxal diktats, this year.