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'Naxals have made a loud and clear statement'

By Krishnakumar P
Last updated on: April 16, 2009 18:16 IST
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In coordinated attacks spread across five states, Naxals on Thursday made a major statement during the first phase of Lok Sabha polling, which covered most of their strongholds.

These include Gadchiroli in Maharashtra, Bastar, Sarguja and Rajnandgaon in Chhattisgarh, Latehar in Jharkhand, Gaya in Bihar, and Malkangiri in Orissa.

Transferred to a map, this will translate into an outline of the Naxal's stronghold, from eastern parts of Maharashtra in the west to Jharkhand in the east and from northern Chhattisgarh in the north to Orissa in the south.

The map leaves out the border districts of northern Andhra Pradesh, where the Naxals had a strong presence but have been beaten back by the feared Andhra security units.

"They have shown their organisational superiority. Also, elections are always an opportunity to get all the publicity they want. In Andhra, though there were no major incidents of violence, polling was affected and sluggish in rural Visakhapatnam, where they have some presence," K Srinivas Reddy, a journalist with the Hindu and an expert on Left wing extremism, said.

No faith in democracy

"When the schedule was announced, they had openly declared that they do not believe in the election process and had warned candidates from entering their strongholds. Today's strikes only reflected their determination," P C Hota, a Raipur-based journalist and security analyst said.

The first thing that stands out about Thursday's attacks is their intensity. "The attacks themselves don't come as a surprise. It was expected that they would carry out multiple attacks on polling day as well as the days leading up to the election. Their aversion to democracy is well known. But the intensity is what surprised me. This shows how much stronger they have become," said Kanchan Lakshman from the Institute of Conflict Management.

Election Commission's tactics fail

Anticipating Naxal violence, the Election Commission had devised a new strategy. While in earlier times, combing and sanitising operations were conducted a week before polling, this time the EC decided to begin a sustained combing operation three weeks before polling.

"The EC's plan turned out to be a big failure. Not only did the Maoists carry out attacks on almost all of the days when combing was on, they also proved that the efforts meant nothing on polling day," Hota said.

The Maoists have also stamped their authority in their strongholds one more time, he added. "By carrying out attacks at will, they have once again shown how powerful they are. This is a statement that loudly and clearly says that they are the only force in areas that they control," Hota said.

The most deadly strike in Chhattisgarh took place in Chief Minister's Raman Singh's assembly constituency Rajnandgaon -- a landmine blast in Manpur killed five government officials on polling duty.

"Even before Chhattisgarh state was formed, the Naxals had carried out their first raid in the region in Manpur thana. So they have a long history of presence in the region," he added.

Security forces unmoved

Though the attacks have created a huge impact and grabbed the nation's attention, for the security forces on the ground, it was just anther day in office.

"There were some incidents where they opened fire on polling parties and security forces in the morning. But polling was over peacefully by 3 pm and the boxes have been secured. The forces will be returning soon with the voting machines," a senior Maharashtra police intelligence official said.

In Chhattisgarh, the police forces said they were satisfied with the operations despite the loss of seven lives.

"During the recent assembly elections, there were fifty incidents of firing from the Maoists. The figure was similar during the 2004 Lok Sabha elections too. This time we anticipated violence and did a good job. The number of violent incidents was half this time," Bastar region Inspector General A N Upadhayaya said.

Two days before polling, Home Minister P Chidambaram acknowledged that Naxals are trying to disrupt polling. "After the elections, we will devise a completely new strategy to combat Naxal menace," he had said.

How much longer he will be at the helm is a big question, but whoever comes to power after the election, will have a tough task at hand. "Whoever forms the government will have to immediately act. They can't live in a fool's paradise forever. These attacks are a reminder about how much the Naxal might has grown in the last five years. The issues that the Naxals have been raising need to be reflected as a priority by the new government," Hota said.

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Krishnakumar P