WELCOME to P.V. Narasimha Rao country. Here, in one of the nations most neglected regions, where the Congress chief launched his partys campaign with a one-word request for re-election, the deadly Peoples War Group (PWG) has responded with a one-word call to voters: boycott. Nothing new. Barring a brief fling with NTR in 1983, the Naxals have urged voters to skip every poll to highlight "the inequities of a system that cant deliver". To no avail. Scared of the police, voters have trooped to the booths. Also, the PWG lacks the manpower to enforce the edict. This, though, is the first general election after the ouster of PWG patriarch Kondapalli Seetharamaiah. No one knows how the new, younger and more aggressive leadership will go about enforcing its fiat. Indications so far have been far from encouraging.
As the May 2 poll drew near, the group targeted police and railway stations, not all of them in Telengana. Says a top police official: "The boycott call will flop as usual but it will help them grab a few weapons. Thats their objective." Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu downplays the PWG threat but the states request for more forces to assist the 80,000 already on duty is a giveaway. The idea, say PWG sympathisers, is not to ensure a peaceful poll but crush the Naxals. There have been over 50 encounters in Naidus six-month regime. In Warangal, 20 aspirants were abducted, taken to the jungles and worked upon not to contest. The tactic is working. In Nizamabads Borgaum village, sarpanch Rajeshwar Goud says no one will vote because, "candidates do nothing on being elected." With the PWG putting the fear of the gun among politicians and even poll observers, the cops have been left holding the can. In Warangal and Adilabad, mobile squads have been touring village after desolate village exhorting voters not to squander their right to choose. The EC, for its part, claims there is no threat to officials. "Its not that they are going for war," says Election Commissioner M.S. Gill, "in any case, they get more security than voters."
PWG sympathisers like G. Haragopal say polls wont solve anything; only armed struggle will. Poet Vara Vara Rao says: "Legislatures are mere talking shops". But a PWG leaders aide is contesting independently in Adilabad. The Naxals know the boycott call may not work, except along the Singareni coal belt where its trade union, SiKaSa, is strong. It issues it anyway to keep demands like land reforms alive. But some like Adilabad MP Indra Karan Reddy believe the PWG has outgrown those issues. "They are in it now for their own good. You can call it self-help naxalism." Adds Sarpanch Kotnak Shankar Rao of Bombar: "They stopped talking about those issues six years ago. Now theyre very self-interested." Lakshmi Parvathi says she will lift the ban on the PWG if voted to power. Union Home Minister S.B. Chavan declares its not a law and order problem, but a socioeconomic one. MP Reddys riposte: the PWG just doesnt want to sit across the table, almost revelling in its illegality, more than a little like, say, the LTTE.