With the Naxalites having called for a boycott of the elections, candidates and their supporters in Maharashtra’s Naxal affected Gadchiroli district — which votes on Thursday — are too scared to campaign freely.
Recently Vijay Wadettiwar, 48, Maharashtra minister of forests, changed his mind about addressing a meeting at Manapur village in favour of Marotrao Kowase, Congress candidate for the Gadchiroli-Chimur seat. “I made an assessment after reaching the spot and decided it would not be safe to hold a meeting there,” he said.
Ashok Netam, 50, a sitting MLA from the area and BJP candidate for the same seat said he had skipped visiting a number of areas, just to ensure his safety. “No doubt the administration has given me security. But what about my workers? They are completely unprotected. Should I risk their lives?” he asked.
“There are three assembly segments of this Lok Sabha seat — Armori, Bhamhapuri and Chimur — where normal electioneering did go on,” said Rajesh Pradhan, district superintendent of police. “But in the other four segments, I admit, there were problems.”
“Who will protect me from the Naxals after the elections?” asked Shiva Kodape of Pendhri village, 40 kms from district headquarters. “Most people in my area feel the way I do. I’m not sure I’ll vote this time.”
No posters, banners or election graffiti of any kind is seen in this region. What is visible are Maoist posters with stern warnings against voting. The posters include implicit threats to the candidates as well.
The 2004 Lok Sabha election saw 23 instances of violence on poll day in this constituency, leading to two deaths.