Raipur, Oct 26 (IANS) Assembly polls are less than a month away in Chhattisgarh but most candidates don't plan to go campaigning in the forested interiors of the Bastar region where Maoist guerrillas have held sway since the 1980s.
'There is no question of campaigning in the interiors, life is more important than a political career,' Rajendra Pambhoi, a three-time Congress legislator from Bijapur, told IANS.
'I can venture out in certain areas but only if sufficient police protection is provided.'
The state, currently ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), goes to the polls on Nov 14 and 20 to elect a new 90-member assembly. The insurgency-hit Bastar region's 12 seats will see polls in the first phase.
'For two decades, contestants in Konta, Dantewada and Bijapur have skipped campaigning but this time the situation is more volatile. I don't think any candidate or even star campaigner will dare to risk his or her life in the interiors,' Pambhoi said.
Maoists have a strong presence in five assembly segments - Bijapur, Konta, Dantewada, Narayanpur and Antagarh - while they have considerable hold in Bhanupratappur, Kanker, Keshkal, Kondagaon, Chitrakot, Jagdalpur and Bastar.
Maoists have killed more than 1,100 people in Bastar since June 2004, including 725 civilian casualties. They carried out one of their deadliest attacks in Bijapur in March last year, massacring 55 cops overnight at a police post in Rani Bodli.
Leader of opposition and Congress leader Mahendra Karma, who is contesting from Dantewada with the hope of winning the seat for the third time in a row, said: 'I am mentally ready for campaigning in certain areas but for the past month Maoists have created a shutdown-like situation in the interiors.
'Campaigning is not possible in a terror-like situation, it needs a political atmosphere.'
The Bijapur, Konta and Dantewada seats are traditionally considered safe seats for the Congress and the BJP has not managed a success there since 1998.
Sources say the BJP has no plans to hold even a single public meeting to be addressed either by its candidates or by visiting star campaigners in the interiors of Konta, Bijapur and Dantewada.
'There will surely be election meetings and rallies but at safer places and district headquarters,' a BJP source added.
The Communist Party of India (CPI) has fielded from Dantewada its senior leader Manish Kunjam who has led several successful rallies and protest marches on local issues in recent years.
'In the past elections, candidates have always skipped the Bastar interiors, and this time too they will not have the courage,' Kunjam said. On being asked whether he had the courage, he said: 'I will think about it early next month based on the security scenario.'