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Voting holds key to talks with rebels

kolkata Updated: May 10, 2011 14:59 IST
Surbek Biswas

Curtains will be drawn on the 23-day West Bengal polls on Tuesday with 14 constituencies going to vote in a phase where the political significance would be inversely proportional to the small number of seats.

The last and smallest phase actually poses the biggest challenge to police, administration and security forces, as these 14 Assembly segments in West Midnapore, Purulia and Bankura districts cover the Maoist heartland of Bengal, where about 700 lives were lost in violence in the past two-and-a-half years.

Moreover, how the zone votes may also largely shape the course of whether and how the new government would engage with the rebels for a solution to the long-standing problem. On Monday, however, the most conspicuous feature of Tuesday's polls was the overwhelming security provided to counter the Maoist threat.

"The number may create terror among the electorate. We have been told to keep mum in this matter," said Zulfikar Hassan, Inspector General (Western Range).

The challenge of Election Commission is, on the one hand, to make the sixth phase poll incident-free, and, on the other, to build confidence among the people so that they come out to vote in maximum numbers.

Jhargram is about to make history of sorts where Chhatradhar Mahato, the most prominent face fighting for tribal rights in the state is the first contestant against whom UA(P)A provisions have been slapped.

The Maoists, who won over people's hearts and minds in several areas falling under these 14 seats, did not so far call for vote boycott this time, a stand contrary to the one taken during 2009 Lok Sabha poll. Though their philosophy is opposed to all mainstream political parties swearing by political democracy, the first and foremost 'enemy' in West Bengal is the ruling CPI(M).

Significantly, these Maoist-dominated regions represent one of the strongholds of the Left, with the opposition holding two out of the 14 that are going to the fray. Nepal Mahato of the Congress (in Jhalda of Purulia) and Chunibala Hansda (in Binpur of West Midnapore) are the two non-Left faces.

This region has also witnessed the fiercest and highest-decibel campaigning with both chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee accusing one another of encouraging the Maoists.

While Bhattacharjee has repeated his party's long-standing allegation of the Trinamool Congress leaders being in collusion with the Maoists, Banerjee has accused the CPI(M) activists of actually turning into Maoists at opportune moments.

Banerjee was also vocal about the absence of development initiatives in Jangalmahal that, she alleged, forced a section of poor people to turn to the gun.

Trinamool is contesting nine out of the 14 seats. Banerjee and her followers are optimistic that they are going to bag a few of these nine.

They are focusing on the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, when the opposition secured lead in four assembly segments - Midnapore, Balarampur, Joypur and Baghmundi. Trinamool is contesting in three of these, while Congress is contesting in Baghmundi.

The challenge for Left Front is to retain its dominance. Three of its minister Sushanto Ghosh, Rabilal Moitra and Debalina Hembram were elected from Garbeta, Gopballavpur and Ranipandh.

Significantly, Maoists have not called for boycott of the polls. In 2009 Lok Sabha polls, they had issued a boycott call, crippling the voting process. It is widely reckoned that the boycott by and large benefited the ruling front, as they got their committed voters to reach polling stations.