INDIA: Low Voter Turnout Amid Maoist-Led Election Boycott

By Mike Talavera

As the election for India’s lower house of parliament continues over several phases this month, a militant election boycott promoted by the Communist Party of India (Maoist) was followed by large sections of the masses, with several polling stations not being visited by a single voter.

Areas with a strong Maoist presence saw a significantly lower voter turnout than in 2014. In the constituency of Araku Valley, the previous participation rate of 70.12% dropped to 54% this year. Many banners and posters have been distributed throughout the eastern “Red Corridor” of India calling for an election boycott in the “world’s largest democracy.” But a true people’s democracy can’t exist when the hunger and poverty of semi-feudalism and imperialist oppression exists.

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On April 9, two days before the beginning of the election, ruling Bharatiya Janata Party representative Bheema Mandavi was killed by a roadside bomb along with his body guards in the Chhattisgarh province. The state had deployed 80,000 police in Chhattisgarh during the first week of the elections.

The state suspects Maoists are behind several other attacks against police that have been carried out in the lead up to the election.  Last Thursday night, three Forest Guard buildings under construction in the west Singhbhum district were blown up. Election boycott pamphlets were found near the scene.

The Bihar Jharkhand Special Area Committee originally called for the election boycott in March, publishing a letter that stated how the semi-feudal government has done little to change the lives of the masses over the past 70 years. “[The election] boycott is the only tool that would pave the way for establishment of [a] pro-people [new] democratic government in the state and the county,” the letter reads.

In an interview with Times of India, a spokesperson of the Maoist Eastern Regional Bureau said that president Narendra Modi has turned more people off to elections through his reactionary and fascist policies. “Subjugation of democratic principles, repression, dilution of labor laws and amendment of rules to dispossess tribals of their ancestral land have made people choose the path of struggle,” the spokesperson said.

In a separate interview, a BJSAC spokesperson said that police have been known to forcibly coerce people in villages to vote against their will. “People are not interested in the [election] when they are running to collect [food] from the forests and earn a living for their families. But when they are forcefully picked up from homes and threatened by the security forces, they are left with no choice but to vote.”

The Unlawful Activities Prevention Act has also been used by authorities to arrest villagers who refuse to participate in voting, accusing them of being associated with the Maoists.

A spokesperson with the Jharkhand Regional Committee said that government efforts to solicit votes from people in the eastern part of the country is part of an overall strategy to industrialize the mineral-rich areas. “[The government’s] mission is not aimed at providing solution to issues like irrigation, education, health facilities, or equal distribution of resources. Instead the [solution] is being offered to the industrial [companies] as to how they can grab mineral wealth under protection of the security forces,” the spokesperson said.

The JRC spokesperson also dismissed government rumors claiming that Maoists were threatening people with retaliation for voting. “Maoists are never a threat for the common people who are already being subjected to repression and exploitation. Rather, we are a threat to the exploiting ruling classes and the extortionist system.”