National

Diminishing Returns

The PWG's ritual-like boycott call may fall on deaf ears

Diminishing Returns
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WELCOME to P.V. Narasimha Rao country. Here, in one of the nation’s most neglectedregions, where the Congress chief launched his party’s campaign with a one-wordrequest for re-election, the deadly People’s War Group (PWG) has responded with aone-word call to voters: boycott. Nothing new. Barring a brief fling with NTR in 1983, theNaxals have urged voters to skip every poll to highlight "the inequities of a systemthat can’t deliver". To no avail. Scared of the police, voters have trooped tothe booths. Also, the PWG lacks the manpower to enforce the edict. This, though, is thefirst general election after the ouster of PWG patriarch Kondapalli Seetharamaiah. No oneknows how the new, younger and more aggressive leadership will go about enforcing itsfiat. Indications so far have been far from encouraging.

As the May 2 poll drew near, the group targeted police and railwaystations, not all of them in Telengana. Says a top police official: "The boycott callwill flop as usual but it will help them grab a few weapons. That’s theirobjective." Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu downplays the PWG threat but thestate’s 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 Naidu’s six-month regime. In Warangal, 20aspirants were abducted, taken to the jungles and worked upon not to contest. The tacticis working. In Nizamabad’s Borgaum village, sarpanch Rajeshwar Goud says no one willvote because, "candidates do nothing on being elected." With the PWG putting thefear of the gun among politicians and even poll observers, the cops have been left holdingthe can. In Warangal and Adilabad, mobile squads have been touring village after desolatevillage exhorting voters not to squander their right to choose. The EC, for its part,claims there is no threat to officials. "It’s not that they are going forwar," says Election Commissioner M.S. Gill, "in any case, they get more securitythan voters."

PWG sympathisers like G. Haragopal say polls won’t solve anything;only armed struggle will. Poet Vara Vara Rao says: "Legislatures are mere talkingshops". But a PWG leader’s aide is contesting independently in Adilabad. TheNaxals know the boycott call may not work, except along the Singareni coal belt where itstrade union, SiKaSa, is strong. It issues it anyway to keep demands like land reformsalive. But some like Adilabad MP Indra Karan Reddy believe the PWG has outgrown thoseissues. "They are in it now for their own good. You can call it self-helpnaxalism." Adds Sarpanch Kotnak Shankar Rao of Bombar: "They stopped talkingabout those issues six years ago. Now they’re very self-interested." LakshmiParvathi 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 Reddy’sriposte: the PWG just doesn’t want to sit across the table, almost revelling in itsillegality, more than a little like, say, the LTTE.

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