Gram sabhas plan to contest Assembly and Lok Sabha polls in future
Nagpur: When the gram sabhas (villages bodies) in Maoist insurgency-hit Gadchiroli district of Maharashtra decided to contest the recently concluded zila parishad and panchayat samiti elections, many of their candidates were in jail or facing court cases.
Those, who were not in jail or facing court cases, were facing hostility at the hands of police, and were being labeled as “Maoist sympathisers.”
However, six out of 20 candidates fielded by the gram sabhas managed to win these local body elections.
Tribal activist Sainu Gota and Lalasu Narote got elected to Gadchiroli Zila Parishad, while Sainu Gota’s wife Sheela Gota and three other tribal candidates made their way into panchayat samities.
The poll plank of the gram sabhas was opposition to the proposed mining projects in the district. Many candidates fielded by the civic bodies were activists leading the anti-mining protests in the district.
A statement issued by gram sabhas and gotul samities in Surjagad, Bhamaragad and other villages in Gadchiroli read, “Despite the opposition by the local people, the government is pushing mining projects in our area. Many gram sabhas have already passed resolutions against these projects and submitted it to the district administration. But the government wants to carry out mining activities in our area.”
It added, “Our candidates had to face a lot of hostility and harassment in the last few weeks. Three of our candidates were in jail for over 15 days.
He added that their win “against all odds” suggest that they are “the real representatives of the people.”
Released on bail
Mr. Gota and his wife were arrested by police when they took two tribal women from Chhattisgarh to a lawyer in Nagpur, claiming that the girls were raped by policemen.
However, at a hearing before the Nagpur bench of Bombay High Court, the girls denied the claim, which resulted in backlash by the police against Mr. Gota and his wife.
Lalasu Narote, who won from the Maoist-affected Nelgonda area of the district (bordering Maoists’ bastion Abujhmad), said, “Mr. Gota and his wife were released on bail a day before the campaigning was about to end. They had just one day for campaigning, but the people and workers were not even ready to talk them fearing police backlash. The people were not even ready to come near their house in Jambia Gatta village. But the couple won by a margin of more than 500 votes.”
He added, “This suggests that people clearly supported Sainu and his wife but could not speak out due to the pressure from the authorities. This shows the ground situation in the district; the local people can not speak their mind freely.”
Mr. Sainu and his wife could not be contacted for their comments as the village they live in has poor phone network connectivity.
Mr. Narote, one of the very few tribal lawyers from Gadchiroli, lives in Hemalkasa village in Bhamaragad division. He has also faced allegations of being a “Maoist sympathiser.”
Mr. Narote said, “The police have raided my house twice but they found nothing objectionable. The authorities call us Maoist sympathisers, but how can Maoist sympathisers get elected by such big margins in elections where the ballot is a secret?
He added, “The fact is, every dissenting voice in the district is being termed as a Maoist sympathiser. This is a misconception by the police about everyone opposed to mining in the district. It’s wrong. The local people know who and what we are and that’s why they have elected us to raise their voice in zila parishad and panchayat samities.”
Mr. Narote also said activists, until now, were taking out rallies and protests, they can take up their issues in the civic bodies. “We can also raise the issues of illegal arrests and detentions of local tribals in the name of counter-insurgency [operations] in the district.”
After tasting success in the civic polls, the gram sabhas are planning to contest the Assembly and Lok Sabha elections, which are two-and-a-half year away.
Mr. Narote said, “The gram sabhas will decide about [Assembly and Lok Sabha elections]. This victory has also shown that we are democracy-loving people.”
Mr. Narote preferred to stay in his village, despite a professional degree.
He told The Hindu, “People and police ask me why I am staying in the village, despite being educated. But you need educated people here, who can stay on the ground and raise the voice of local tribals because they don’t even know their basic rights.”