By-poll ahead, but no one’s campaigning in Bastar interiors


Raipur: They talk big, but no politician, not even the candidates, are campaigning in the interiors of Bastar for fear of Maoists ahead of the Lok Sabha by-poll in the Chhattisgarh constituency May 8.”None of the eight candidates in the fray, besides star campaigners of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and opposition Congress, has so far hit the extreme forested roads that are full of landmines,” a police official in Jagdalpur, headquarters of the insurgency-riddled Bastar, told IANS.

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“Despite all our assurance to provide security for campaigning, no politician is risking his life and either focusing on campaigning in urban areas or holding rallies around the villages of national highways, state highways or tribal hamlets based in the vicinity of police stations or paramilitary forces camps.”

Communist Party of India (CPI) candidate Rama Sodhi said: “Leaders have not dared to visit the extreme interiors though they claim to campaign in remote areas defying Maoist dominance.

“Chief Minister Raman Singh addressed a rally at Dornapal Monday, which was described as ‘a rally in the Maoist bastion’, but actually the rally was held at the national highway and also close to the camp of paramilitary forces.”

Congress nominee Kawasi Lakhma, who has given sleepless nights to the BJP, which has won the seat the last four times, remarked: “I told my leaders and cadres, don’t go into forested areas for campaigning from where you can’t come out before sunset because I know the risk in Maoist-dominated areas after sunset.”

Former chief minister Ajit Jogi who is leading the Congress campaign for his diehard supporter Lakhma has not addressed a single rally in the deep areas of Dantewada and Bijapur districts, though he too claims to have held several rallies in the Maoist heartland.

“Whatever the rallies he has addressed are all in safe areas. Fact is no politician from any party has shown the guts to campaign in the extreme interiors where Maoists are undisputedly the rulers,” a tribal politician and former minister told IANS on condition of anonymity.

Officials at the police headquarters say Maoists have buried landmines in a 25,000 sq km area in Bastar region that comprises five districts – Dantewada, Bijapur, Narayanpur, Bastar and Kanker.

The Bastar region is made up of two tribal reserved parliamentary constituencies – Bastar and Kanker – which have witnessed the killings of about 2,000 people in the past decade, including 1,000 civilians.

The by-poll for the Bastar seat was necessitated after the death of veteran BJP tribal leader and MP Baliram Kashyap in March. The BJP has fielded Kashyap’s son while Congress nominee Lakhma is legislator from the Konta assembly seat, one of the eight assembly segments that form the Bastar parliamentary constituency