Indian Express

Saranda shakes off fear of 15 yrs

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She stood in front of the EVM Thursday morning and stared. She went ahead after a poll official explained the symbols. She smiled and pressed a button.

Outside the booth at Digha village in West Singhbhum’s Manoharpur block, her husband by her side she explained, “I last voted when they had paper ballots. That must have been 15 years back,” she said.

She lives in Tirilposi, the village around which the Maoists established its eastern regional bureau’s headquarters. From around late 2000 to September 2011, the village and the 850 sq km forest that housed it were out of bounds for the state.

Thursday was the first time Tirilposi voted since Anaconda-I, the operation by security forces to reclaim the area. The operation was followed by the Saranda Development Plan. In all, 12,431 voters across 19 booths were eligible to vote in this region.

However, most people from Tirilposi insisted that they cannot be inked. “We had a meeting in the village last morning and decided to vote only if they won’t put ink on our fingers,” said a village elder. The villagers signed in by using a thumb impression made from a stamp pad. “The ink from the stamp pad can be washed off. We will be in trouble if the Maoists check,” he said.

The people of Tirilposi were not the only ones trying to out-think the Maoists. CRPF personnel at Digha wore white ribbons as shoulders loops. “We were worried that the Maoists would wear uniforms similar to us to trick us,” said an

With the administration shifting polling booths to a central area for security forces, voters had to travel up to 60 km from their homes. “We have to walk 17 km from Nayagaon to catch a bus to Rourkela. From there, there’s another bus to Bhalulata and walk another 7 km to the polling station,” said Naresh Khalkho, a polling agent at Digha.Physically challenged Pradhan Gudiya (19) was angry. “I’ve made the effort of coming all the way here. Now, the government should give me a job,” he said.

When the results came in at the three polling stations in Digha, Saranda seemed to have passed its first test: Digha (71.7) and Tirilposi (66.9) did well, while the Bitkilsoi booth, which included Nayagaon, registered 28.8 per cent. In all, Singhbhum constituency registered 62, up from 60.77 in 2009.

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