Koraput: Experiences of Election Campaign

T he CPI(ML) contested the Koraput Lok Sabha Seat and the Assembly seats of Gunupur, Bissam Cuttack and Rayagada. This region in Southern Orissa, bordering Andhra Pradesh has been a historic site of the peasant struggle of Srikakulam. More than half of the population in this area is tribals, most of whom are poor and on the brink of starvation. In our efforts to revive the peasant movement, we have concentrated in this area, especially in the Rayagada district.

Our movement in this region has won political appeal among the tribals and rural poor through the determined struggles to capture and defend ceiling surplus land and traditional tribal lands that have been illegally occupied. This appeal was reflected in the gradual move towards organized struggles, with the poorest and most exploited in this backward region taking the step of forming their own organization of agrarian labour. In the Rayagada district alone, 10,000 members were recruited in AIALA.

Unlike coastal or even Western Orissa, election campaigns in Souther Orissa tend to be a low-key affair, with ruling class parties relying on mobilizing traditional networks among tribals rather than a vocal campaign. We put such parties on notice with our wall-writing, posters, leaflets, mass meetings and other forms of vigorous campaign, forcing them to adopt such forms to some extent as well.

We determinedly raised the issues of starvation deaths and food security, protection of tribal lands and rights to forests, and dignity of rural poor and tribals. This campaign saw the enthusiastic participation of tribal poor and agrarian labour, especially tribal women. Our candidates were well recognized and respected for leading the resistance to feudalism and bearing the brunt of police repression and even jailing. The mass of tribal poor as well as old sympathizers and activists of the Naxalite movement were enthused by our movements against starvation deaths and our protest against the killing of tribals in police firing in the Kashipur block.

In the Koraput Lok Sabha seat we polled 48, 366 votes, while in the Gunupur assembly seat we polled 8706 votes, and 3543 and 3221 votes in Bissam Cuttack and Rayagada respectively. Our review shows that in the Gunupur Assembly seat particularly, we could have polled much higher, in view of the fact the same Assembly segment gave us 10, 460 votes in the Lok Sabha. The poll results indicate the spontaneous appeal generated by our movement and our Party, and shows that there is much space for expansion and consolidation.

Even after the polls and our encouraging performance, a mass struggle for land has been initiated in the Dhepaguda block of Bissam Cuttack. The challenge for us is to consolidate on the powerful appeal of our movement, strengthen our organizational structure and promote student-youth activism.

-- Maleshwar Rao