Election Phase 1: Where will Gadchiroli vote go?

Gadchiroli-Chimur goes to poll on Friday, April 19, in the first phase of Lok Sabha elections.

Credit : Indie Journal


Polling day for the Gadchiroli-Chimur Lok Sabha seat in Maharashtra, on Friday, April 19, comes barely six months after Maharashtra Police cracked down upon the peaceful Adivasi protesters in Todgatta in Gadchiroli district, forcing them to withdraw the over 250-day-protest to save their jungle from mining. With several new mining blocks proposed in the area, this general election holds high stakes for the Adivasis residing in the naxal-affected, police-surveilled, mining-threatened jungles of Gadchiroli. Although they have faced disappointment from the Congress earlier, Adivasi citizens said they are considering turning to the party this time, in face of the new projects and environmental act amendments brought in by the BJP over the last decade.

“We do not want the mines in our area. We have asserted our opposition several times. However, all the government has done is destroy our protest, rather than listen to us,” said Mahado Kavdo, a resident of Rekameta village in Gadchroli’s Etapalli taluka.

Kavdo was part of the protest in Todgatta against five newly proposed mines in the Damkondwahi hills in Etapalli taluka and a proposed four-lane road. While the construction of the road stopped when the protest began in March last year, the government also said that mining leases have not been approved. However, after the government gave permission to the Surjagarh mining block to operate in the same taluka, during Covid pandemic, despite a massive opposition from people, the locals now have no trust in the government.

“In the last five years itself, the BJP government in the Centre has violated environmental acts, amended the provisions of several acts to help the corporates and encroached upon the jungles of the Adivasis. See, it is a very difficult choice for the Adivasis, as the Congress has also done injustice to us, when they were in power. But right now, our focus is on who is going to listen to us,” said Nitin Pada, a resident of Etapalli taluka, who actively participated in the protest against Surjagarh Iron Ore Mines.



Last week, several Adivasi leaders and locals in Gadchiroli met Congress leader and Leader of Opposition Vijay Wadettiwar and the Congress candidate for the Lok Sabha elections Namdev Kirsan, on behalf of 1,442 gram sabhas in the district. They informed the Congress leaders of their demands and asked for assurance that their rights and the forests would be saved if Congress comes to power.

“Of the 12 tehsils in Gadchiroli districts, Adivasis make up for 70 to 80 percent of the population in eight of them. In the remaining four as well, Adivasis comprise around 40 percent of the population. Our demands and our concerns must be taken into account by any leader who wants our support,” Pada said.

Gadchiroli-Chimur is area-wise the largest Lok Sabha constituency in Maharashtra. The constituency goes to poll on Friday, in the first phase of Lok Sabha elections 2024. Gadchiroli SP Neelotpal said today that 15,000 security personnel will be deployed in the region during voting tomorrow. A fleet of drones will be used to keep an eye on the activities.  This time, Congress has given a ticket to Namdev Kirsan. Originally from Gondia, the Kirsan had been eying the seat for the last two elections as well, when Congress fielded Namdev Usendi, who lost to BJP’s Ashok Nete both times. BJP has again given their ticket to the incumbent Nete. However, local activists say that there is a big discontent among people against the BJP.

“Over the last 10 years, the government has been arresting many people in Gadchiroli over the alleged suspicion of Naxal connections. Several activists or those who raised voice have been to jail or are still imprisoned. Police stations are being built unnecessarily, despite opposition from locals and without seeking consent from the Gram Sabhas as dictated by the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) - PESA - act,” activist Lalsu Nogoti said.

In fact, within 24 hours of the Gadchiroli police crackdown upon the Todgatta protest, a new police station was inaugurated in Wangeturi, a village on the Maharashtra-Chhattisgarh border, in close vicinity of Todgatta. A few weeks later, another police station was inaugurated in the nearby village of Gardewada.



While the police said that the police stations would help surveil Naxal activity in the region, the locals fear that it will make their lives even more challenging.

“After the Todgatta protest, around 10-12 of us were arrested by the police, including me, and taken to Chandrapur jail. We stayed there for around two weeks, before we were released on bail. We often face detention and arrests from police under section 110 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC). We fear more police stations would mean that the frequency of action against us would also increase,” Kavdo expressed.

Section 110 of CrPC empowers police to take preventive action against those they deem to be habitual offenders. As per the locals, instances of Adivasis being picked up by the police, citing Naxal connections, are very high in the district’s tribal area.

“What’s dangerous about this act is that it gives the right to arrest, book and detain A person to the police itself. That is against the Constitution,” Nogoti said.

In February 2022, Adivasis in Gadchiroli’s Bhamragad taluka called a huge protest after the police arrested a few Adivasis, accusing them of helping Naxals in an incident, wherein Naxalites had allegedly burned around 21 vehicles in the nearby village. One of those who were arrested, a college-student Prakash, was found to have not been in the region at all at the time of the incident, as he was in the taluka place answering his college examination at the time. While Prakash was later released by the police, the incident highlighted the allegations by the Adivasis that they were being arrested arbitrarily.


Also Read: What made Gadchiroli Adivasis protest?


Mangesh and Sushila Narote, Adivasi couple and activists from Besewada village told Indie Journal on an earlier occasion that they have been facing constant police action since the last nine years.

The Adivasis have presented a comprehensive set of demands to the Congress, before offering them any support.

“We demand that all the rules of the fifth and the sixth schedule be implemented in our tribal region. We also want all the new mines that have been proposed in the region be cancelled immediately. We want the PESA and Forest Rights Act to be implemented completely here,” Pada said.

The Forest Rights Act, 2006  recognises the forest rights and occupation in forest land in forest dwelling Scheduled Tribes and other traditional forest dwellers who have been residing in such forests for generations but whose rights could not be recorded. PESA rules were designed to recognise and enforce tribal local self-governance.

But apart from these, the tribals also want their MP to care about the basic amenities required in their villages.

“We do not have a health centre in Rekameta, the nearest one is in Gatta, which is 12 kilometres away,” Kavdo said. The problem of the lack of healthcare extends to the other tribal tehsils of the district as well, from where we have seen multiple stories of people having to walk miles just to get to the most basic healthcare facilities.

We have one school in our village, which has classes till 4th. Then the children have to travel to Etapalli. Our village school does not have enough teachers,” Kavdo said.

Pada added that the demands to Congress also included withdrawal of the government decision, which called for the closure of schools with less than 20 students. The Adivasis had also demanded government jobs in line with the reservation that they have.



“There is anti-BJP sentiment among people. It is not just the lands where they start mines that they take from us. They build big roads. Adjacent to the Surjagarh mine, they have encroached upon a large stretch of land that Adivasis would earlier cultivate, and have started constructing tall buildings there. They have installed a 80-100 km long pipeline,” Pada said.

Nogoti also added that several mobile towers were coming up in the region. “Of course they are being installed for the convenience of the staff that comes to work at the mines. However, they could also be used to increase surveillance in the area,” he said.

However, whether the new Congress candidate, deemed as outsider by the BJP in their campaign multiple times, could make an impact or not remains to be seen. On the other hand, Nete has defeated Congress candidate Usendi in the constituency twice consecutively. Usendi, upon being denied the candidature this time, resigned from the party and joined the BJP. BJP leader and Maharashtra's Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has conducted several public meetings for Nete in the district over the last few days.

However, while Kirsan is deemed to be an outsider, part of Gondia does fall in the ambit of the Gadchiroli-Chimur Lok Sabha Constituency. Experts have said that Wadettiwar’s campaigning in the district could also help Kirsan, as Wadettivar represents the Bramhapuri assembly seat in Chandrapur taluka, which falls in the Gadchiroli-Chimur Lok Sabha Constituency. Apart from BJP and Congress, Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA), Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Bhim Sena have also fielded their candidates in the constituency.