Heart of Maoist land is no-go area for politicians
In the southern tip of Chhattisgarh, the 4,000-odd sq km Abujhmad forest is called by Maoists a "liberated zone". It is part of the Bastar Lok Sabha constituency. With Maoists calling for a poll boycott, not one candidate has dared to enter Abujhmad to campaign.india Updated: Apr 10, 2009 15:56 IST
In the southern tip of Chhattisgarh, the 4,000-odd sq km Abujhmad forest is called by Maoists a "liberated zone". It is part of the Bastar Lok Sabha constituency. With Maoists calling for a poll boycott, not one candidate has dared to enter Abujhmad to campaign.
"Campaign in Abujhmad? No way!" said Shankar Sodhi, the Congress candidate in Bastar. "Everybody knows the situation there. It's meaningless to talk about the issue."
Former legislator and Communist Party of India candidate Manish Kunjam said: "I don't think any of the seven candidates in Bastar can even think of campaigning in Abujhmad. It's because of the fear of Maoists."
The Abujhmad forest is among the densest in India. It has few roads and there is no police station.
Most of the 26,000-odd people living in the 237 villages in the area are from the Abujhmaria tribe that is largely dependent on the forest for a living and has almost no contact with the outside world.
According to officials, the Maoists have a terror infrastructure in Abujhmad from where they keep in touch with their counterparts in as many as 13 Indian states.
"I have not heard of any leader at any level addressing any public meeting in the region,", said Brigadier (Retd.) B K Ponwar, director of the Counter Terrorism and Jungle Warfare College (CTJWC) in the Bastar region. The CTJWC was set up by the state government in 2005 to train policemen to "take on guerrillas like a guerrilla".
"This is a liberated zone and under the total influence of Naxalites (Maoists); there is no police station in the region, and the Naxalites have put up explosives and landmines at all entry routes," Ponwar said.
"Security forces must carry out a creeping re-occupation of this territory by establishing a new police force and counter Naxal bases," he added.
Political analyst Anil Vibhakar said: "The government of India's writ does not run in Abujhmad, no leader of any party can dare to campaign or address a rally there. I ask Indian leaders to show some guts and address at least one rally in Abujhmad to convince the people here that government has some authority.
"But I am sure that power- hungry politicians of this country won't take such a major security risk to step into Abujhmad for democracy," he added.
While calling for the election boycott, the Maoists have threatened to chop off the hands of anyone who votes.
Pawan Deo, deputy inspector general (special intelligence branch), said: "Abujhmad is a largely inaccessible area with hardly 10 km of roads. Security forces go into the region occasionally and carry out attacks on rebels. We are in the process of taking possession of the area."
In 2005, the government-funded and Raipur-based Tribal Research and Training Institute (TRTI) sent an eight-member team to Abujhmad to survey the residents. But the Maoists did not allow them to enter the forest.
T.K. Vaishnav, joint director of TRTI, said: "The people of Abujhmad are on the verge of extinction as they lack health facilities and have no connection with the outside world.
"I am associated with several government works and projects in the tribal areas of Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh for more than two decades. But I have never heard of any leader visiting Abujhmad to seek votes. I don't think any politician can even dream of going inside Abujhmad. The Maoists command the entire area."