Chhattisgarh election: Voters turn up at 126 new booths in Maoist-hit region
In this rendition of polls in Bastar, the worst Maoist-hit region in India, 126 new polling booths across 8 districts were set up by the administration.
The villages of Minpa and Elmagunda are ten kilometres apart, and on the ragged road that connects them, on the morning of November 7 when Bastar voted, there was silence. There were no flags, no swarming political workers, no political posters. The only written literature, strewn along the sides of the road, were pamphlets by Maoists declaring the boycott of the elections.
And yet, by early afternoon, Kawasi Bande, his face wrinkled by age, stood outside the Elmadunga polling booth, deep inside the forests of Sukma, a nervous smile across his face. “This is a new experience to me. I have never voted before in my life. This is my first and it may be my last. All I am happy about is that I can say I voted at least once in my life,” he said.
In this rendition of polls in Bastar, the worst left wing extremism hit region in India, 126 new polling booths across 8 districts were set up by the administration. These are areas often caught in the violence between Maoists and the state, in a region where elections have often been violent, characterized by IED blasts and even political killings, such as the death of BJP MLA Bhima Mandavi in Dantewada before the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
Minpa and Elmagunda were among those 126 booths. The former has 848 voters, and its polling station was in 2018 20 kilometres away. Elmagunda has 506 voters. By the end of the day on Tuesday, both villages had voted for the first time, with 113 in Minpa and 247 in Elmagunda excercising their franchise.
22 year old Raju said that he voted because he wanted government schools, hospitals, ration shops and roads to reach his village. Ganesh Selvam said he had considered his vote carefully. “We will vote for those that worked to end the violent Salwa Judum in Bastar,” he said.
But there were signs of the fear that still lingers. Around the Minpa polling booth, many that voted sat on the side of the road, rubbing off the indelible ink from their fingers, afraid of Maoist reprisal. A CRPF official said, “We had to re-assure them that they would be given security after which they voted.”
At around 2:30 pm, there was an even more stark reminder of the violence that persists. The sounds of gunfire began to echo around Minpa as Maoists and the security forces engaged in an exchange of fire, that left four personnel injured. People scattered, and voting came to a close. “The villagers were sent back to their village at around 3 pm for security reasons,” the officer said.
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