“When Maoists in Jharkhand sneezes, Sonebhadra and Mirzapur districts catch cold,” this is how the Uttar Pradesh MLC Shaym Singh describes the import of Maoists call to voters in Sonebhadra.
The Maoists have asked people in Sonebhadra, Chandauli and Mirzapur areas to vote for “their candidates”, who are in the fray for the sixth phase of elections scheduled for May 3. “And their call carries some weight,” Shayam Singh, a BJP legislator, adds.
The Maoists call, however, is a clear deviation from the past since the Naxalites are traditionally known as election baiters— those who force others to boycott polls. Dig a bit deeper and we have all the answers.
Sitting atop Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP)’s elephant, dreaded Kameshwar Baitha— the CPI (Maoist) sub-zonal commander currently lodged is Garhwa jail in neighbouring Jharkhand— is the one who has scripted the shift. He is also the one who is pulling the strings in Uttar Pradesh.
Baitha is a rebel with a difference. He is a rebel who wants to rule. Having finished a close second as BSP nominee in recently concluded Palamu (Jharkhand) Parliamentary by-election, Baitha next target is to consolidate his hold across the borders—where he has always been a force to reckon with.
In jail since 2005, Baitha holds an audience every day. His brothers and sons, besides scores of BSP leaders from Bihar and UP keeping him posted on the UP election developments.
In fact, the 54-year-old rebel has 12 cases for extremist activities pending against him in Sonebhadra district. But, this is not the only close tie he shares with the Uttar Pradesh. Jharkhand Police claims that Baitha’s son-in-law a government official and his “samdhi” a police inspector in Uttar Pradesh.
“Baitha’s daughter marriage was solemnised few years back in the famous Radha Krishna temple at Renukoot where he had visited incognito for the Kanyadan,” Said Md Jalalluddin, a local scribe who claims to have witnessed the wedding.
Beyond family ties, Baitha has other reasons to “wage war for the oppressed in UP through legal means.” In fact, Baitha and his team of comrades are wielding the axe because they have an axe to grind.
“The Maoists have always been debating on the feasibility of contesting elections. But, I am no longer a Maoist. Once in jail the membership ceases. I am only a BSP party worker, and my men are in Uttar Pradesh trying to ensure that the elephant has a cakewalk,” he, however, explains.
The explanation, however, has only stoked fears of those who are feeling the heat unleashed from beyond the borders. Not surprisingly, the Samjwadi party men are making the loudest noises.
According to Vijay Singh Gaur, the sitting Samajwadi Party legislator from Dudhi assembly constituency, “ This Maoist diktat commanding the voters to vote for their candidates is the handiwork of Baitha and his team. This is a plan hatched by Mayawati, “ he said.
Gaur, however, admits that Sonebhadra’s geography is also a huge reason behind Naxalites successes in holding their sway. “The district share borders with Bhabhua (Bihar), Garhwa (Jharkhand) and Sidhi (Chhattisgarh). These are Naxalite infested,” Gaur said.
Incidentally, Baitha has a looming presence in these areas with legends associated with him. And in the Naxalite dominated outback, tension has been building up beneath this apparent calm because of apprehensions about possible Maoist attacks in areas where there commands are unlikely to yield desired results.
Says sexagenarian Kailash Ghasia of Nagwa, “Politicians remember us only during elections. Then you don't see them. They are not worth risking our lives for. Besides, the Naxalites could be the hawks with a hacksaw. We should vote the way the wind blows.”
Time to keep the fingers crossed.