Poll in Chambal may finally come out of the shadow of the gun

November 20th, 2008 - 12:42 pm ICT by IANS  

Bhopal, Nov 20 (IANS) The Chambal ravines in Madhya Pradesh, where criminals and politicians appear to share a symbiotic relationship, will see an assembly poll bereft of gun power since the area has been rid of major marauding bandits.The only fear is from bandits from across the state’s border, but the police have sealed the border and recently foiled an intrusion attempt from Rajasthan by the gang of dreaded bandit Jagan Gurjar.

The state goes to the polls Nov 27 to elect a new 230-member assembly.

Though banditry in the Chambal region has not been erased despite efforts by various state governments, it is on a low these days. This is because members of all the major gangs, including those of Gadarias, Jagjeevan Parihar and Nirbhay Singh Gurjar, have been shot dead by the police in the past one year in gun battles.

Since the state’s inception in 1956, the Chambal region has always seen bandits canvassing for politicians during elections or themselves jumping in the fray. The region includes Gwalior, Bhind, Morena, Guna and Shivpuri districts in Madhya Pradesh.

Malkhan Singh and Madho Singh actively campaigned for candidates of the breakaway Congress (Tiwari) faction in Bhind after present central minister Arjun Singh and former minister N.D. Tiwari broke off from the Congress in 1996.

Similarly, Mohar Singh canvassed support for Bharatiya Janata Party candidate Ram Lakhan Singh. Later, the former bandit himself contested a council election in 1995 from Mehgaon town in Bhind district and won.

Both Malkhan Singh and Madho Singh held senior Congress leader Arjun Singh of Madhya Pradesh in high esteem since he was instrumental in “reforming” them.

From Malkhan Singh’s time in the 1950s to the period of Dadua, Nirbhay and Thokia gangs which were eliminated recently, all the elections have been influenced in one way or the other by bandits, also known as ‘baghis’ (rebels) in local parlance.

Chambal’s ravines provide an ideal hideout to them. It is difficult for an outsider to trace anyone hiding in the ravines; even the police find it tough. The trijunction of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh in the badlands around the river also makes it easy for the bandits to cross borders and escape.

Many bandits in the area have had a Robin Hood image for decades, after they turned outlaw in defiance of social and economic exploitation by powerful upper caste landlords.

Caste politics, land disputes, unemployment and other socio-economic factors, besides lack of political will to tackle the menace - all have added to the growth of banditry, say social analysts.

One result is that bandits have won elections as well. Phoolan Devi got to parliament. Ramshree, sister of Dayaram and Rambabu Gadariya, contested and won a panchayat election from Bhimpur under the Narwar block of Shivpuri district in 2005. She later lost a district election and also a Gwalior Lok Sabha by-poll.

But now, with the bandits on the run, the electorate in far-flung parts of Gwalior and Shivpuri districts is feeling relieved as they can exercise their franchise without fear.

The Gadariya brothers, when alive, used to canvass for candidates at gunpoint. This practice was then followed by bandit Hazrat Rawat and some others.

Gwalior Additional Superintendent of Police (rural) Anil Singh Kushwah said that extra safety measures, including patrolling in rural areas, would be initiated during the elections. Senior police officers in the region recently convened a meeting chaired by Deputy Inspector General (DIG) of Police Adarsh Katiyar and DIG R.B. Sharma.

Katiyar said extra vigilance by the police in the border areas crisscrossing Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh would be maintained to ensure a free and fair poll.

“We are reviewing the situation from all angles including alleged trafficking of arms and criminals from UP (Uttar Pradesh),” he said.

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