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The battle against the ballot

The battle against the ballot

Author: Aarti Dhar
Publication: The Hindu
Date: March 19, 2004
URL: http://www.hindu.com/2004/03/19/stories/2004031901921300.htm

Their morale boosted by a huge rally of supporters earlier this month, naxalite groups in the tribal areas of Chhattisgarh and neighbouring Madhya Pradesh have intensified their campaign for a boycott of the elections, concentrating efforts on countering the work of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh and its myriad affiliates. Outfits such as the People's War and the Maoist Communist Centre are convinced that the conflict of ideologies will, in the near future, pit them against the RSS cadre who have spread their network in the tribal belt.

The PW held the rally in the inaccessible Abhujmad area of Bastar district when over 25,000 adivasis gathered to "express solidarity with the PW and its ideology." `Bhoomkal Diwas,' as the day was described, saw an unprecedented gathering, with supporters coming from the Dandakaranya region of Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand and Bihar to participate in what was apparently a "show of strength."

Bhoomkaal, meaning upheaval in the tribal Gondi language, was aimed at consolidating tribal support and giving a call, through the rally, for the boycott of the Lok Sabha elections. Speakers urged the participants to maintain their unique identity and not to be swayed by Christian or Hindu social service groups working in the region.

The PW leaders told their followers they did not subscribe to any religious philosophy and believed that the tribal people had their own unique identity and ideology. Particular exception was taken to the practice being urged on the tribal people to greet each other with `Ram Ram' or `Jai Ram.' Efforts allegedly being made to encourage the recitation of Ram Charit Manas and celebration of festivals such as Holi also came under criticism.

Naxalites who do not allow the local administration to enter their `domain,' have permitted missionaries and social organisations to provide education and healthcare facilities to the villagers. But they say a firm `no' to the promotion of any religious philosophy.

In fact, the jungle wale bhaiyya (brothers from the jungle) have opposed classes on culture and religion in the Ekal Vidyalayas and have now started `threatening' the churches for attempts at conversion. In the naxalite areas, the Ekal Vidyalayas are often referred to as Gram Shiksha Mandirs. Religious discourses have been done away with.

Taken unawares by the response to the rally, the local administration said the people gathered out of fear of the naxalites. No village would of course ever say that a naxalite was an outlaw or had violated the law of the land.

The PW is also preparing for the elections, which it wants boycotted. It revamped its organisational set-up to avoid arrests due to the heavy presence of paramilitary forces in the region.

The Dandakaranya Adivasi Kisan Mazdoor Sangh has been disbanded and a new unit, Party Cell, created at the village level. Each cell has three to five members and will function at the lowest village level.

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