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Demining Democracy - an Ethnographic Study of Assembly Election Campaign in Kelabadi Labour Camp, a Low-Lying Slum on Outskirts of Dalli Rajhara, Town in Chhattisgarh Known for Mining Activity

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Demining Democracy

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An ethnographic study of assembly election campaign in Kelabadi Labour Camp, a low-lying slum on outskirts of Dalli rajhara, town in Chhattisgarh known for mining activity.

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Narendra Kaushik

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Prepared through Governance Now

Under the Comparative Electoral Ethnographies Project supervised by Dr Mukulika Banerjee

http://www.governancenow.com/lse-2013/

CONTENTS

  1. Background
  2. How the campaign unfolded
  3. Language of Political Discussion
  4. 4) Do freebies influence vote?
  5. Why People Vote
  6. Culture of a Polling Station

Chapter 1

Background

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Profile of Kelabadi

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Tucked in the foothills of Dalli Mines, Kelabadi also called Labour Camp comprises municipality ward numbers 11 and 12 of Dalli rajhara, a town in Balod District of Chhattisgarh, and is part of Dondi lohara Assembly Constituency. Kelabadi is largely inhabited by squatters who were once employed in mining carried out by and for the BSP. The land the wards have been built on, like the rest of the town, belongs to the BSP and the Indian Railway. A majority of the inhabitants (Municipal Councilor of Ward 12 Narmada Sahare puts them at over 90 per cent) of Kelabadi have been unemployed since early part of 21st century when they were laid off due to saturation in mining activity, engagement of private contractors and installation of heavy machines. The rest still work as helpers, drivers and technicians for private contractors involved in mining or other activities. Kelabadi is located about two and a half kilometre from the centre of Dalli rajhara on the roads leading to Dondi and Konde. It is sub divided into small settlements called Pump House, Dam Side, Manual Camp, Ram Rama Dafai and Bajrang Chowk.  The slum-like settlement is situated on either side of a bridge which hides a nallah flowing downwards from the Dalli Mines. Majority of its residents live in mud houses barricaded by thatch and wires and are deprived of the most basic amenities. They defecate in the open, bath in waste water of mines and traverse long distances to fetch drinking water. A few of them sustain on wells. The only signs of development in Kelabadi are cemented streets, water pipelines and open drains laid in some parts of it. During rains nallah waste flows right into houses built on either side.

The general modes of transport in Kelabadi are motorbikes, scootys and bicycles. Women walk several kilometers to buy kitchen stocks from Dalli’s Purana Bazaar. The population of the three booths (192, 193 and 194) in Kelabadi has either remained static or increased marginally (only 81 new voters have registered since 2009). Recently 165 families were relocated from the settlement to make way for a railway line to Narayanpur which will allow the BSP to tap new sources of iron ore. There are 1617 voters in the three booths (804 females and 814 males), located in a middle school. Alcohol addiction is a major problem in the settlement.

Constituency Profile

Dondi lohara is the only constituency reserved for Scheduled Tribes (ST) in newly-carved Balod District of Chhattisgarh. There are three assembly constituencies in the district.  Dondi lohara mainly comprises Dondi and Dondilohara sub divisions, Dalli rajhara town and houses 1, 89, 229 voters (94,975 males and 94,254 females). There are over 200 villages in the constituency (56 Gram Panchayats in Dondi and 102 Gram Panchayats in Dondi lohara). Over 50 per cent voters in the constituency are STs. The constituency was with Janak Lal Thakur of Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha, a labour organization of miners founded by late Shankar Guha Niyogi, for two terms (1985-1990 and 1993-1998). In between (1990-1993) Jhumuk Lal Bhedia of Congress represented it in Madhya Pradesh Assembly. In 2003, Lal Mahendra Singh Tekam, a royal from Dondi lohara, wrested it for the BJP from Thakur. In 2008, Tekam’s wife Neelima Singh became a BJP MLA from the seat in 2008.

Local Body Equations: Congress rules in 27-member Dalli rajhara Municipality. The party wrested it from the CMM in 2009. The latter ruled over the municipality for two consecutive terms. Currently while Ward Number 11 is with BJP’s Ratan Thakur, Ward Number 12 is represented in the Council by Congress’ Narmada Sahare who defeated Santri Bai Nishad, wife of then CMM Councillor Vishnu Ram Nishad.

Lok Sabha Scenario: The constituency is part of Kanker (ST) Lok Sabha seat represented by BJP’s Sohan Potai since 1998. Potai, a tribal and a former civil servant, has won the seat four times consecutively. Earlier the constituency was considered a bastion of Indian National Congress having returned Arvind Netam to the lower house of the parliament four times (1980, 1984, 1989 and 1991). Netam’s wife Chhabila represented the seat for two years from 1996 onwards before losing to Potai.  

The Candidates

 

BJP has replaced Neelima Singh Tekam with Hori Lal Rawte, a forest officer. Congress has fielded Anila Bhedia, daughter-in-law of Jhumuk Lal and sister-in-law of Domendra Bhedia, party president of Balod District. Thakur is once again in the fray on Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha’s ticket. Both BJP and Congress face rebellion with local Congress and BJP leaders Anita Kumeti and Banwari Lal Markam having filed nominations as independents. Gondwana Gantantra Party’s Tukaram Koram and five other candidates are also in the race to win the seat.

Caste Equations:

It is mainly a fight between Halba and Gaur tribes in Dondi lohara with mining labour organizations getting marginalized by the day. Though Halbas have a larger number in the constituency, Lal Mahendra Singh Tekam and his wife Neelima Singh (Gaur) triumphed here in 2003 and 2008 because Halba vote got divided. Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha (CMM) which originated from Chhattisgarh Mines Shramik Sangh (CMSS), an association of mining workers, has lost much of its support base because the number of miners has greatly shrunk in last seven years. The number of regular mining workers has reduced from around 17,000 to about 3,000 since 2006. The number of society workers (who work under contractors) also stands at less than 300 now. An overwhelming majority of candidates are either Halbas or Gaurs.

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