None of the above (NOTA) button makes its debut appearance in the upcoming polls. It was used in assembly polls in 5 states but for the first time the whole nation will get to use it. In a way it is to ensure more and more people participate in democratic exercise even if they are not aligned to any particular party. Surprisingly, in a significant development Maoists in Bengal have come forward as a major proponent of the newly introduced option courtesy Election Commission.
Bengal, the land of Naxalbari has continued its romance with extreme left politics for nearly four decades now. In the 70’s, the brightest and the most talented students sacrificed their lives and career embracing Naxalism. They hoped to bring around a change in the society. The idea was noble, execution wasn’t. Much has changed since then. Left wing extremism has got a new face in Maoism. Manmohan Singh has called them the greatest threat to internal security of the country. The Maoist wants to overthrow the Indian state using force. From time to time, names like Bastar, Dantewada hit headlines for Maoist violence. The districts of Bankura, Purulia, Birbhum, West Midnapore in Bengal are also part of the red corridor spreading across several states where Maoists have more than reasonable amount of influence. In May 2010, the Jnaneswari Express derailment in Bengal caused by Maoist guerrillas killed 141 people. Two years before that, then C.M Buddhadeb Bhattacharya narrowly avoided a land mine blast engineered by Left extremists.
Unlike in Maoist infested regions in states like Jharkhand and Chattisgarh, Bengal has always been an exception when it comes to polls. The call to boycott elections has never cut much ice here. Thus Maoists have changed their strategy this time around. A section of the Maoists are urging voters to opt for the NOTA option. They think the poor primarily belonging to the tribal community can show their apartheid towards the state by overwhelmingly giving a negative vote. But ideologically Maoists are against electoral democracy. The U-turn has left many a hardliners baffled. The Bengal unit though is going ahead with call for NOTA. They believe it is difficult to convince voters why they shouldn’t cast their ballot. In a sense ultimately it just becomes a farman (order). Thus the strategy is being carefully recalibrated so as to not antagonise the voters and also to ensure no major political party gain from it.
There is a theory that Maoist call for NOTA is not due to political pragmatism but an admission of their weakness. It is no secret Maoists are not the force they used to be. After police action in Jangalmahal (Operation Lalgarh) clamped down on their camps, state government has tried to reach out to the people through various development schemes. Youth from the tribal belts have been provided employment. So the grounds swell of support which the Maoists enjoyed exploring the poverty of people has decreased considerably. After death of Kishenji the party organisation in Bengal is in shambles. A lot of top leaders have surrendered. Many believe all these factors are forcing the Maoists to strike a conciliatory tone.
More than what meet the eyes?
While Mamata propagated the theory of Marxists and Maoists being alike before the 2011 elections, CPIM leaders think otherwise. They allege that in Nandigram, Maoists worked hand in hand with TMC cadres. So didi has only cleared up the mess she created. Local Left leaders believe Maoists by not giving call for poll boycott are tacitly supporting TMC. While jury may be out on that one, it is definitely a healthy sign that Maoists have taken first step towards embracing the Indian state. The power of democracy!!