Budrai Debbarma, 57, cycled three dusty kilometres from his Ramdaspara village in the hot, humid afternoon to cast his vote at Gabardipara, about 25 km from Agartala Monday.
Speaking in Kokborok, the language used by most of the state’s indigenous peoples, Debbarma explained it was his duty to vote in every election, which he has done so far, and also because he wants “good governance”. Asked how his one vote would matter in an election where his state will send just two MPs to Parliament in far away Delhi, Debbarma said he never thinks of elections that way.
Rohminga, 53, of Mizoram who has lived and worked in Agartala for eight years, held up his inked finger and said, “I am not someone who is involved or even takes a particular interest in politics, so I have nothing to gain directly no matter who wins. But it is my duty as a citizen to vote and a chance to express my opinion on whom I believe will be able to give us a good government.”
And Rajarshi Chakma, 27, a government employee in Agartala, explains: “It is not only our constitutional right but our duty. We may have just two MPs, but they are still our MPs, the only ones we can communicate our grievances through to the central government.” He adds proudly that people in Tripura set a national turnout record of 92 per cent in the assembly elections last year.
It is this strong feeling of each citizen’s duty and right that was expressed by most voters Monday in the Northeast’s smallest state, where the turnout across polls has been high over two decades.
Others expressed their reason for voting as a way of expressing their desire to see continued peace in a state that has been plagued since Independence by mass displacement of communities followed by an emergence of ethnic armies and large-scale ethnic riots that has largely subsided in the past decade or so, although some armed groups still operate and strike sporadically.
Rakhirai Burman, 33, and Chhayra Ranidi, 51, walked 3 km under the shade of umbrellas till the Anandanagar polling station outside the state capital with about a dozen friends. “We want tranquillity, and we want continued peace,” explains Ranidi when asked why they have come to vote.
Those who have not seen the worst years of ethnic tension and violence express this same wish and reason for voting – “First and foremost, I want to see peace continue, and I also want more development. For these things we need efficient MPs, MPs we can back up and support,” says Sharmistra Das, 21, who voted for the first time in parliamentary elections.
Some are unable to articulate their reasons but have still voted enthusiastically. Rabi Kaynya, 32, puts up her hands and walks away smiling when asked why she walked 2 km to the polling station at Gabardipara.
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