One of the most encouraging aspects of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections has been the significantly high voter turnout in areas affected by Left-wing extremism. Bastar in Chhattisgarh, that remains severely affected by Maoist insurgency, saw a voter turnout of almost 60 per cent as opposed to 47.33 per cent in 2009.
Here, as well as in other areas, the Maoists had called for a total boycott of elections. But in most areas, in spite of the violence perpetrated by the Maoist rebels, people have come out in large numbers to cast their vote. In Gadchiroli constituency in Maharashtra, that is a part of the Maoists’ foremost guerrilla zone, the Dandakaranya Special Zone Committee, over 68 per cent votes were cast as opposed to 65.21 per cent in the 2009 elections.
Munger and Jamui in Bihar also saw a 10 per cent increase in voter turnout. The only affected area where the turnout was low is Orissa’s Malkangiri that recorded a voting percentage of 48 per cent. One reason attributed to the higher turnout is the enthusiasm of first-time voters who came out in large numbers. Also, in many Maoist-affected areas, people are tired of the long cycle of violence, and want things to change. The voter turnout in Bastar has left the Maoists worried.
After the elections in Bastar on April 10, they have held meetings at several places with Adivasis to understand what prompted this high turnout. Even in the formerly Maoist-hit areas in West Bengal, that went to the polls on May 7, the turnout has been exceptional. West Medinipur, Purulia and Bankura registered a turnout of 81.41, 78.75, 80.55 per cent respectively till 5 p.m. In Jhargram, it was almost 88 per cent. The challenge for the new government would be to focus on the development of the red corridor, especially when people there have expressed their faith in democracy.
One major reason why the Maoists were able to entrench themselves in these regions was that the Indian state had completely forsaken its people. The void left by the state was just filled by Maoists. The onus is on whosoever forms the next government in New Delhi to change the equation. In many areas, there is sympathy among the Adivasis for Maoists. Security operations in these areas may have put Maoists on the back foot, but this can only be a temporary trend.
In the absence of a real developmental intervention by the new government, there will be no ebb in violence in Bastar and other Maoist-affected areas. One of the biggest challenges before the new government will be to instill a sense of security among the people. That will only happen if the people have confidence in the government – after which they will reject Maoism.