CAMPAIGN TRAIL: ‘Am a symbol for the tribal people. If I rise, they can too,’ says alleged Maoist supporter Soni Sori, AAP’s Bastar candidate

Soni Sori campaigning in Narayanpur, Bastar
Soni Sori campaigning in Narayanpur, Bastar

In the region which qualifies as being among the most volatile in the country, she walks comfortably with a ragtag group of volunteers. Though there is tension in the air as the sun dunks further towards setting, the elaborate security, available to her ‘Z’ and ‘Z+’category competitors especially following last May’s bloodbath involving the Congress party leadership in Chhattisgarh, is missing. Fighting to represent the Bastar Parliamentary Constituency in the 16th Lok Sabha, Soni Sori, the 39-year-old teacher from Dantewada who only recently secured a hard fought bail from the Supreme Court, admitted she still wondered how life changed so much for her.

“Four years ago, I was a daughter, a wife and a teacher. Today, I am a widow, an alleged Maoist supporter and am also fighting this
election,” said Sori, sipping tea at the end of her campaigning for the day. Having been accused of supporting the Maoist insurgents, Sori was nabbed in October 2011 for being a ‘conduit’ in alleged payoffs by the Essar Group for the Maoists in Dantewada.

Entering people’s homes, she tries connecting using Hindi, Gondi or Halbi, depending on what may work. Walking through a village where the roads were concretized, electricity and water supply were not much of bother, when asked what should would do for the seemingly content people, “I am their daughter and I represent hope.” Things, however, aren’t as simple. In a unique move, Sori has drafted her ‘manifesto’ on a Rs 1000 stamp paper which runs into five pages and has 51 points on which she would work, if elected. She explained, “Reason why I did this is the negative feedback people gave me, many even abused me for
being just like any other politician and seeking their votes.”  In that declaration she ’empowered her electors’ to ‘recall’ her if her
performance faltered.

Even though her name as the AAP candidate was doing the rounds for a considerable amount of time, her ground campaign, a largely disorganized effort, has begun only a few days ago. Interestingly, there were not as many local volunteers as those from Mumbai, Assam and Delhi. There was some friction between the members of the local AAP unit, said an insider.

On being asked about her suggestion towards ending the violence, she said, “When I was in the jail, I saw there were many like me, caught just because they chose neutrality. That was not fair. I began writing and finally the movement grew. Before tackling the Maoists, the intentions of the government need to be above board. When I was incarcerated and the Sukma Collector was abducted, there were negotiations which happened, committees were made and a list of people was drawn up who were to be released in lieu of the Collector. The Maoists did let go of the Collector but what did the government do? It
did not do what it was to do. Tell me who should I hold responsible? If there is trust, violence will come down.”

As she prepared to reach out to her electors, spread over six districts in the Bastar region, she seemed aware of the odds against
her. “It does not matter whether I win or lose. I am always going to be involved with these people,” she said. On asking if Arvind Kejriwal had advised her, she smirked, “Had it not been for Kejriwalji, I would have gone back into the shadows. He has, by offering me a platform, given hope to Bastar. If someone like me can, they too can.”

Soni’s Promises
*       Cops to get special allowance in Maoist-hit areas along with residential quarters and ten days of leave per month
*       ‘Bastar Allowance’ for all civilian govt staff
*       Tribals languishing in the jail will be provided with legal help and efforts will be made to get them out
*       Recruit more personnel in the jail department so that prisoners get better treatment
*       Focus on every home to make it financially independent
*       Bus service to look after remote interior locations
*       De-addiction centre in all villages
*       Toll free number to inform about pending governmental works
*       People won’t need to travel to govt offices
*       Within one year, roads, water condition and air pollution will be tackled
*       All local problems to be sorted out in local gram panchayats in 24hrs
*       Rs 10 lakh interest free loan to farmers from the government
*       Schools will have no vacancies unfulfilled


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