Saranda defies Maoists to cast vote

Tribal voters refused to allow polling officers to put ink mark on their finger nail, fearing reprisal by Maoists

By Alok Gupta
Published: Friday 18 April 2014

In the dense forests of Saranda in Jharkhand, residents say  two things rarely touch the ground—one, sunlight and, two, government development schemes. The forest had been a hotbed of Maoist activities and a large number of panchayats in Manoharpur block around the dense forest never voted in the past 15 years.

On April 17, panchayats in the area were abuzz not with the blasts of cane bombs but with the hum of electronic voting machines.

Tribal voters emerged from their homes in Digha, Thalkobad, Bithkulsoi and Karampada panchayats to cast their vote for parliamentary elections. They defied a decade and half old Maoist diktat to boycott elections.

But that is history, says Santosh Mahto, in-charge of legislative council of Manoharpur. He adds that administration for a long time had been working to make inroads in these neglected areas.

Manoharpur is a part of Singhbhum constituency that is witnessing tussle between BJP candidate Laxman Gilua and Geeta Koda, wife of Madhu Koda, a sitting MP who has been implicated in multi-crore mining scam. Geeta is contesting from Jai Bharat Samanta Party ticket.

Around 71.7 per cent votes were cast in Digha, 66.9 per cent in and Tirilposi and 28.8 per cent votes in Bithkulsoi.

Punit Minz, co-ordinator of BIRSA, a non-profit working in the region, says voters' confidence in government was restored by the frequent visits of Union minister, Jairam Ramesh.

'No ink please'

Despite heavy presence of CRPF and police force, voters from these panchayats refused to allow polling officers to put ink mark on their finger nail at the time of casting votes.

Residents fear that the indelible ink would give away the fact that they voted. They fear Maoists who have called for election boycott in the region would target voters who cast their votes.

“The people have showed exemplary courage by casting their vote. They have shown faith in the government but fear of Maoists still looms large,” Mahto says.

Polling officers, considering voters' fear, made ink mark optional for them.
Senior police officers posted in the Manoharpur block for peaceful polling refused to comment. They maintained that tribals of the area should feel secure that forces will be posted in the area even after the election. This extended deployment is to control Maoists' backlash after the election.

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