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OPINION / ANALYSIS

India: 2014 Parliamentary Elections and Challenges from Rebel Groups

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SACM, April 2014
April 25, 2014

Indian democracy witnessed multiple challenges. Disruption of elections by the rebel groups in the three conflict theatres – Jammu & Kashmir, central India and the north-eastern states of India – is one of them.  Unlike the 2004 and 2009 Parliamentary elections, some Islamist extremist groups have planned to disrupt the 2014 elections. Some of them have even been preparing for the last six months or more to disrupt the elections. Ever since the Election Commission of India declared the nine-phase Parliamentary elections from April 7 to May 12, the rebel groups have declared a poll boycott in their strongholds. They warned the voters of dire consequences if they participated in the democratic process. The call for poll boycott had affected the election campaigning in the eastern districts of Maharashtra, north-eastern part of Andhra Pradesh, southern-western districts of Odisha, southern Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Assam, Manipur and Jammu & Kashmir.
 
Other than the north-eastern region and Jammu & Kashmir, in the 2004 and 2009 general elections, the six Maoist-affected states had accounted for 108 and 124 violent incidents and 9 and 24 deaths respectively, which was highest in comparison to other conflict theatres of India. In a single incident, around 17 persons, including five election officials and almost a dozen police officers were killed on the first day of elections in Chhattisgarh on April 17, 2009.
 
Anticipating increase of poll-related violence compared to the previous elections, the Election Commission (EC) has made elaborate security arrangements for conducting free, fair and peaceful elections. The EC had identified 33 districts in Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh where the highest numbers of incidents were reported in the 2004 and 2009 Parliamentary and Assembly polls in 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2013. Therefore, the EC doubled the deployment of armed forces to 2.4 lakh, from the last elections. In the 2009 general elections, the EC had deployed 1.2 lakh armed forces personnel.
 
In the EC’s assessment, the Maoists have emerged as the biggest challenge. Ideologically, the Maoists believe that Indian democracy is a bourgeois democracy and they want to establish a people’s republic by armed struggle. They also defy the Indian Constitution. Ideologically, therefore, they oppose the elections under the present political system. The CPI-Maoist statement issued for the 2014 elections on March 24 indicated that “[t]he present exploitative system cannot be transformed with elections…That is why [CPI-Maoist] is giving a call to the entire people of India to boycott…parliamentary and assembly elections and to march forward in the path of PPW for the victory of the NDR…for building an Indian people’s democratic federal republic.[1]
 
Like previous elections, the Maoists have adopted special tactics to disrupt the elections within their strongholds. The 2014 elections also coincide with the completion of ten years of the founding of the CPI-Maoist. The outfit wants to celebrate the year by intensifying both military and political campaigning to establish itself as an alternative political force. First, the CPI-Maoist, which is responsible for 90 per cent of the left-wing extremist violence, has formed special attack groups in various special zones  to carry out attacks on security forces during their deployment in the elections. Second, the outfits has distributed pamphlets in Jharkhand, Odisha, Chhatisgarh, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal against the elections and asked the local people not to participate. There are reports that the Maoists ask people to boycott the elections by SMS. Third, in some places the Maoists have threatened candidates not to contest the elections. In eastern Maharashtra, 33 polling boothshad to be relocated anticipating Maoist attacks before or during the poll. Last but not the least the Maoists have intimidated villagers through posters, pamphlets and routine village visits, that the present security arrangement in the area is temporary. They would punish those who voted after the withdrawal of the forces.
 
Apart from the Maoists, radical Islamist groups also wanted to disrupt the elections.  For the first time, the Indian Mujahideen (IM) perpetuated violencethrough communal riots and bomb blasts during  election campaigning. It felt this was a good opportunity to highlight their cause by targeting political leaders, who are vulnerable during the elections. The IM plan was foiled with the arrest of around seven of its members including India operation chief Tehsin Akhtar alias Monu from Nepal, and the dismantling of the newly-formed Rajasthan module.  Police seized an unspecified amount of explosives from the arrested IM members.  In Jammu and Kashmir, the JKLF opposed the 2014 elections. Its chief Yasin Malik was placed under preventive custody while organising an anti-poll rally in the state.
 
In the Northeast, separatists groups like the NDFB and the Manipur revolutionary force opposed the elections. Both the outfits asked the voters not to participate in the elections. The NDFB reportedly collected security money from the candidates for contesting elections.  Interestingly, the ULFA (anti-talk faction) has not issued any poll boycott instructions to the voters. The outfit generally opposes the democratic exercise since it has been demanding a sovereign Assam.
 
The present security arrangement in the insurgency-affected regions cannot be expected to wholly address the anxieties of the electorate. The people of the region are aware that these are temporary measures, and the forces will soon be withdrawn once the electoral exercise is completed. At that stage, the insurgents are expected to wreak vengeance on those who may have dared to disobey their election boycott diktat. Therefore, many people may not take the risk of casting their votes even if they want to. The Maoists’ unilateral peace talks offer just before the first phase of elections could be a boost to the poll managers. But it is too early to believe the Maoists who have used the peace talks in the past as a tactic to regroup and recoup.  

[1] Find the press release here, http://maoistroad.blogspot.in/2014/04/boycott-sham-parliament-assembly.html

 

Courtsey: South Asia Conflict Monitor, April 2014.