Originally Published 2003-12-04 09:09:53 Published on Dec 04, 2003
A wave of pre-election violence, intimidation and destruction unleashed by Naxalites of the People¿s War Group (PWG) has been continuing in the post election phase in the central Indian State of Chhattisgarh. Legislative Assembly polls were held there on December 1, 2003. Polling could not be held in parts of Konta constituency, Dantewada district,
Unbated PWG Naxal Violence in Chhatisgarh
A wave of pre-election violence, intimidation and destruction unleashed by Naxalites of the People's War Group (PWG) has been continuing in the post election phase in the central Indian State of Chhattisgarh. Legislative Assembly polls were held there on December 1, 2003. Polling could not be held in parts of Konta constituency, Dantewada district, a PWG stronghold that shares borders with Orissa in the east and Andhra Pradesh in the south, because election officials failed to turn up at those polling booths, in the face of a PWG threat that warned them of serve punishment. In the same district, the Naxalites sneaked into Malikisholi, Chatrai and Ursangal polling booths in the guise of genuine voters and ran away with Electronic Voting Miachines (EVMs), while their sympathizers did the same at 16 other places, in the same district. Further, the PWG rebels had set-off landmine blasts at three places--Penugunda, Bharamgarh and Deshbil--targeting security force (SF) personnel on election duty. There were, however, no casualties.

In neighbouring Bijapur district, armed PWG cadres set-off another landmine explosion and destroyed a tractor carrying ballot boxes, on December 2. Some more violence was avoided because the administration deployed 20 helicopters from the Indian Air Force's 'Tank Buster' and 'Desert Hawk' squadrons to safely airlift 71 teams of polling personnel to the counting centers. Further, media reports of December 4 indicate that counting of ballots at three centers covering 12 Assembly constituencies Bastar region is being undertaken amidst unprecedented security arrangements apprehending storming of counting centers by the PWG.

Ahead of the polls, on November 23, 2003, the PWG laid an ambush on the SFs in three different incidents, in Dantewada, on the same day. In the first, a group of Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel came under attack, near Bejji village, in a land mine blast the PWG set-off causing injuries to some of them, though their number is not known. In a second incident, near Vinjaram village, the Naxals attacked the ambulance in which the injured SF personnel were being moved to a hospital, and shot dead one of them, while the others ran to safety. In a third incident, another group of SF personnel escaped a landmine blast near Chintavagu.

The PWG is known to be active in 16 districts in Chhattisgarh and Bastar region--comprising Dantewada, Kanker and Bastar in Chhattisgarh and the adjoining Gadchiroli district of Maharashtra--is its bastion In fact, a top SF official told this researcher during an interview in February 2003 that the highest leadership of the PWG has made the area known as Abuz Marh (which means 'the unknown hill') in Bastar its home, and directs the activities of the outfit from its base in the nearly impregnable Dandakaranya forest. In fact, Bastar was once a shelter zone for the guerrillas into which they retreated in the face of intense operations by SF personnel in Andhra Pradesh.

The ongoing spate of violence the PWG has unleashed did not come as a surprise. A report in the vernacular Telugu press said, a few days ahead of the November 23-multiple ambushes, on November 17, that armed PWG cadres had been moved in large numbers from the North Telengana Special Zone (NTSZ) area--the PWG's flagship guerrilla zone--to the adjoining areas in Chhattisgarh, which in PWG parlance fall in the Dandakaranya Special Zone (DKSZ), to disrupt the elections there.

Further, Ganesh Uike, the PWG chief of Bastar Division warned in a statement published in the local media on November 17 that his outfit would not let elections be held in its strongholds. He said, "The PWG opposes hustings in principle, therefore no political party's candidate in extended support . Naxals don't participate in the poll process, either directly or indirectly."

The PWG does not subscribe to parliamentary politics, and instead believes in waging an armed struggle to capture political power, on the lines of the Chinese revolution. At the same time, its declared objective is to weaken, eject and replace institutions of civil governance through force, violence and intimidation. Towards this end, in October-November 2002 the PWG had issued threats to village-level elected people's representatives to quit their posts or face violent retribution. Available reports indicate that nearly 450 representatives, indeed, complied with PWG directive. Thus, much ahead of the elections to the State Legislature the rebels had paralyzed grass-roots level democratic institutions. Thereafter, they had, according to a media report of October 23, 2002, warned higher level political leaders--including local legislators and parliamentarians--not to enter Bastar. That warning was especially directed against Rajendra Pam Bhoi, the chairman of Chhattisgarh Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (downtrodden communities) Commission, Kawasi Lakma, legislator representing Konta, and Chhattisgarh Minister for Industries and Dantewada legislator Mahendra Karma.

The PWG claims that the entire Bastar region is a 'liberated zone', which in PWG parlance means that the rebels are in a dominant position there while the state is said to be running for cover. Probably, this explains the reason behind fatalities in Naxalite violence in Chhattisgarh being low in comparison with those in some other States. Between the year 2000 and early 2003, Chhattisgarh recorded 140 fatalities, while Bihar recorded 398 fatalities, the highest number in the country during the corresponding period.

The objective of the PWG rebels is to gain and retain unquestioned sway over areas in which they are present. Besides seeking to eject the structures of civil governance in such areas, they also mortally scare the SFs through ruthless attacks. On December 12, 2002 a group of 80 armed PWG cadres laid an ambush on the vehicle of the Bijapur district police chief and his deputy while they were returning from the State capital Raipur. Both had a miraculous escape. More recently, on September 12, 2003, a group of PWG cadres attacked, near Dodari village, the convoy of Dantewara district police chief P Gautam, who, too, had a miraculous escape. However, a police personnel was killed in the incident and another wounded, while a woman injured in the cross-fire subsequently succumbed to her injuries. A day later, on September 13, a group of about 100 armed cadres of the PWG blew up a portion of Gidham police station, Dantewada district, in a grenade attack and fled with weapons, besides abducting an unspecified number of policemen.

Rampant corruption among the various levels of the administration and the political executive might have facilitated the entry of the rebels into the area initially. They, then, went around 'punishing' the corrupt and fighting the state, besides raising issues such as rights of tribesmen over forest resources, dignity and better standards of living, etc. However, their mindless violence has done more harm than good to the Bastar region. Consequent to their violence, reports from Bastar region indicate, development works have been nearly ground to a halt. In the face of threats to workers engaged in government-run development works like construction of revenue and administrative buildings and laying roads, work came to a stand-still. One report claimed on November 10, 2002 that the PWG wanted works to be undertaken by its own 'network' and had, hence, disrupted ongoing construction activities.

The remark is similar to the one made by Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu, who echoed a similar opinion., a little over a year later. Naidu said, on November 14, 2003, that Naxalite violence has adversely affected the development and progress of his State. The same is true of all areas in the country that are affected by extremist violence. Therefore, for the welfare of the people in the State, and especially in the worst Naxal-hit Bastar region, the next government in Chhattisgarh could address the people's needs with greater earnest, while curbing the menace of PWG violence.
The views expressed above belong to the author(s). ORF research and analyses now available on Telegram! Click here to access our curated content — blogs, longforms and interviews.