Indian Express

State’s voter no 1 has no clue of what the poll fever is all about

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Mungibai Valvi (22) is among the few graduate voters in the tribal hamlets of Nandurbar. Mungibai Valvi (22) is among the few graduate voters in the tribal hamlets of Nandurbar.

At a time when the election fervour has peaked across the country, Sangeeta Vangrya Vasave (23), who is registered as voter no. 1 on Maharashtra’s voter rolls, is blissfully unaware of the election rhetoric.

Ask her who Narendra Modi is, she says she does not know. Ask her who Rahul Gandhi or Sonia Gandhi are and she says she does not know. Ask her who her local MP is, and she says she does not know.

Vasave presently resides in the tribal hamlet of Dhankhedi in Nandurbar district. While the rolls identify her place of residence as Manibelly, which is another tribal hamlet situated in close proximity, Vasave shifted to Dhankhedi recently after her marriage.

The famished pockets are situated along the Satpuda mountain range and are a part of the Akkalkuwa Assembly constituency, which is the first Assembly segment on Maharashtra’s rolls.

And Vasave is not the only one. Senior journalist Neelesh Pawar, who works with the tribals, says several tribal families residing in these hamlets and others in proximal areas have suffered from years of neglect and find the poll rhetoric irrelevant.

“There is no proper road network, electricity or water supply. Residents of these hamlets are virtually cut off from the rest of the world. Newspapers too are not circulated in the region. How is one expected to know what’s going on,” Pawar asks.

Interestingly, previous election results indicate that at least six out of 10 tribal voters in these belts come out to vote.

Udya Vasave (35), a resident of Sipanpada, explains. “We cast votes based on instructions of heads of the hamlets, who pay us Rs 100 in return,” he says.

While the cheap buck is a honey trap for the impoverished tribal voters, Dilip Padvi, another tribal, says the ones who disobey the chieftains instructions are often targeted. “We have the option of staying away or voting as per instructions,” he says.

Udya adds, “No leader ever returns to the hamlets after voting. There won’t be any development even if we do not accept the money.”
Mungibai Valvi (22), a first-time voter from another tribal hamlet Zhangthi who has completed her graduation, however, is determined to cast ballot based on an informed choice.

In fact, her hamlet, where Medha Patkar-led Narmada Bachao Andolan is active, has decided that it would only vote for a candidate who promises roads and electricity within a time-frame.

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