All through the electoral campaign in South Chhattisgarh, which ended on Wednesday, there was a conspiracy of silence about the most important issue in the region. No candidate was willing to say a word about the Maoists or Naxalites.
The Maoists are active all over Chhattisgarh, in 12 of the state’s 28 districts, having killed around 1100 people in the last four years. But they are strongest in the five districts of Bastar in the south, which they regard as part of their liberated zone. Candidates in the region, no matter which political party they belong to, try as far as possible not to mention the ‘M-word’ in their campaign speeches.
They are not even seen trying to persuade voters to disregard the call to boycott elections that the Maoists have given.
On Sunday, two senior BJP workers in Bastar's Dantewada district, were brutally killed by the Maoists. But the BJP candidate from the region, Bheema Mandawi, refused to condemn the killing. “Voters are impressed by chief minister Raman Singh"s development initiatives,” he said. “Development will render the Maoists irrelevant.”
Similarly Khwasi Lakma, Congress candidate from Konta refused to say anything about the Maoists. “The Raman Singh government is corrupt and neglects tribals,” he thundered. “That is all I have to say.”
“Even when Naxals commit ghastly killings, politicians here use very guarded language to condemn the violence,” said Dantewada resident Sohan Baghel. “They want Naxals to know they are just going through the formalities.”
“People fear that if they criticise Maoists, they will be personally targeted,” said an Independent candidate, seeking anonymity. “Who wants to risk his life?”