On a day some well-connected districts and cities in Maharashtra saw a low voter turnout, residents of Manibeli hamlet in Akkalkuwa taluka of Nandurbar district created the means to cast their votes. Manibeli is surrounded by the waters of Sardar Sarovar Dam on three sides and is almost inaccessible by road. Voters travelled by boat to booth 1 of the state’s constituency number 1.
Till noon, the booth had seen a 60 per cent voter turnout, despite there being only one EVM machine, which was being operated on a standby battery in the absence of power supply. Also, tribal women, who make up 50 per cent of the voters, turned out in large numbers to cast their votes. They said they knew that the poll result would not benefit them for they were the “forgotten tribe of no-man’s land”, but added that they were celebrating voting day as citizens.
For 40-year-old Sumitra Tadvi, who travelled over 5 km on a fishing trawler to reach the booth, voting day is a reminder of their identity in the state. Tadvi, who like other Manibeli villagers lives in the fear of being drowned by the rising height of Sardar Sarovar Dam, said, “Our men have been approaching the state government for the past ten years so that we get recognised as owners of cultivable land and are able to seek compensatory lands once the dam is raised. It has been of no use. At least on voting day, the government remembers us and sends the voting machine.”
The women had dressed up in their best on Wednesday. Social gatherings are rare in the barren area surrounded by teakwood trees. Savitri Vasave, 30, said she eagerly awaits her turn at getting inked, “I wore my best saree and jewellery today as it is like an outing for us. We travelled over 8 km by boat. There has been no campaign and we do not know how many people are contesting, but we will vote for the party that we think will cause the least damage to our island village.”
Manibeli is almost inaccessible by road, except by a 35-km dirt track to the first bus stop in Molgi. Families prefer to take the boat.
At least a dozen boats and small fishing trawlers were seen ferrying voters to the polling booth. The booth has 266 registered voters, including 133 men and an equal number of women.
Mukesh Jaware, presiding officer at Manibeli booth said election authorities had sent across an additional EVM, should it be needed. “Right now, we are using only one EVM but we have an extra machine. The voter turnout has been good although the booth is a tin shed with no electricity or water. The tribals surely have motivated themselves to come out and vote.”
Contesting from Akkalkuwa this time are Aamshya Padvi of Shiv Sena, Vijaysinh Paradke of NCP, sitting MLA KC Padvi of Congress, Nagesh Padvi of BJP, Mamta Valvi of MNS, Ranjit Padvi of Bahujan Mukti Party and three Independents Narendrasing Padvi, Madhukar Padvi and Madan Padvi. The tribals said they had heard of no one except Paradke, whose pamphlet was pinned to many village homes a few days ago.