IN TWO DAYS from now, people will be queuing up to cast their votes in the Damoh Assembly bypoll in Madhya Pradesh. The district is witnessing huge activity with a string of leaders from both the ruling BJP and the opposition Congress addressing public gatherings in different places.
Presenting a picture in stark contrast is a village Hinota Kalan which has about 3,500 residents. Picking up the gauntlet to break the Covid-19 chain as the second wave of the pandemic rages, this village in Hatta tehsil in Damoh district decided to shut itself down.
On Tuesday, when The Indian Express visited the village, streets lay vacant and all shops remained closed. The silence in the main road of the village was interrupted by the continuous ringing of Narendra Chokariya’s mobile phone. As BJP’s block upadhyaksha of Hatta, there were demands on him to organise people from his village to attend the public meeting at neighbouring Laxman Kuti village. Rajya Sabha MP and BJP leader Jyotiraditya Scindia was campaigning in Laxman Kuti.
A bypoll was necessitated in the Damoh Assembly constituency after Rahul Singh Lodhi, a Congress MLA had defected in October 2020, and joined the BJP.
However, Chokariya, much like the 3,500-odd residents of Hinota Kalan, did not want to risk his own health and safety and that of others by getting them to participate in crowded public gatherings. He is even more guarded having spent nearly Rs 1.5 lakhs in treating his younger brother, who recently recovered from Covid-19.
“I am committed to my party, but how do I push people to participate in something at the cost of their lives. Jaan hai toh jahaan hai,” says Chokariya.
On April 7, the state government issued a circular announcing a weekend lockdown in urban areas across all districts. It, however, exempted Damoh — headed for a by-election on April 17 — from any such restrictions. The administration left it to the District Election Officer to decide on the nature of restrictions to be imposed in Damoh.
In the district, political activities are in full swing with public gatherings being held every day. Senior leaders such as Digvijay Singh and former Chief Minister Kamal Nath from the Congress and Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, former CM Uma Bharati, and Lok Sabha MP Pralhad Patel, have been addressing people in different areas of the constituency.
While Hatta tehsil that lies about 50 kms from Damoh is not poll bound, political party workers like Chokariya are under pressure to get people from their villagers for public gatherings. Another villager from Hinota Kalan who works for the Congress, said he received similar calls to get villagers when Rajya Sabha MP Digvijay Singh had reached Damoh to campaign.
On Tuesday, Damoh reported 74 positive cases. So far, the district has recorded 3,519 positive cases and 94 deaths. Villagers alleged there was no contact tracing, and with the government machinery focused on the by-polls, no policeman had visited the village. Hence, the Hinota Kalan villagers took the matters in their own hands after their village saw four deaths.
All shops, vegetable vendors to food grain outlets and tea stalls remained completely shut over the weekend. The lockdown was observed on the call of Gajendra Singh, a village elder, who went about with folded hands beseeching each businessman to shut down his shop.
“The CM is coming and holding public rallies at a time when the government should be imposing strict restrictions to avoid gathering of crowds. We decided to observe the lockdown until the elections conclude, and are hoping that after the polls, the government will wake up and do what is needed,” said Gajendra Singh.
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