In Dantewada, a train to Raipur, the Chhattisgarh capital, has remained a decades-old promise; in Malkangiri, Orissa, displaced tribals have no electricity or water in 31 years in the new habitats they found after their villages were swallowed by a hydel project; in Parvatipuram, Andhra Pradesh, local farmers are wage labourers on their own land.
Across Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand, destitution and deprivation are offering fodder for left wing extremists, who staged a record number of attacks on Thur-sday in a bid to enforce their call to boycott polls.
The past decade has seen the Naxal influence in this region grow as much as the deployment of police and paramilitary forces. But the key to winning this war, which has claimed more than 3,000 lives in last five years, lies elsewhere: in fighting poverty.
If Thursday’s voter turnout is any indication, the Naxals are gaining. In the affected constituencies, the turnout dropped between 4 to 10 per cent.
While fear of reprisal from Naxals may have kept many voters from the polling booths, a growing disenchantment with mainstream political parties has also contributed. “It’s a bit of both,” said Sudeep Chakravarti, author of Red Son: Travels in Naxalite Country. “These are areas that have long remained underdeveloped; promises made to people are rarely kept; and in many places, politicians show up only at times of election.”
During a recent trip to Malkangiri district, in six villages this correspondent was told people were seriously considering boycotting the polls.
“We lost our village to the dam, but we haven’t got anything in return,” said Somnath Gudiya, 69, whose village went under water when the government built the Balimela Dam in the 1970s. That project provides irrigation to faraway villages in Andhra, but there is no electricity or water supply in Doraguda, which is among the villages where Guidya and thousands of other displaced tribals have been rehabilitated.
There is no paved road to Doraguda and a primary school set up recently in its vicinity has only one teacher.
It’s the same story across the so-called Red Corridor spanning 167 districts.
There are increasing calls to modernise police and deploy more forces in these areas. But experts say this would only have limited impact, unless accompanied by development.
India spends more than Rs 1,100 crore annually on anti-Naxal measures. Expanding them further would only mean cutting back on development spending and creating more fodder for the Maoists.