Frail and wrinkled, 64-year-old Kutake Gota walked for more than 10 kilometres and six hours on Thursday, from her village to the polling booth and back. “I don’t know much about politics, but I know I have to vote,” she said.
The Chukalus, a family of four from Ekra Khurd village, walked to a booth five kilometres from their home. There, they realised their booth had changed. Angry but determined, they trudged another seven kilometres and finally got their fingers inked in the village of Peth.
Defying the diktat issued by the Maoists to boycott the general elections, more than 70% of the voters in the Gadchiroli-Chimur Lok Sabha constituency showed up on Thursday. In 2009, the turnout here was 65%. As HT travelled across Gadchiroli, long queues curved around polling booth. Officers said they were confident many would come through the day.
At 3.30pm, some insurgents opened fire on a polling party on its way back from work near Jambia Gatta in the Yetapalli taluka. The skirmish lasted for a few minutes, then the rebels melted into the dense forests.
But the incident was an exception. Thursday’s elections were largely peaceful.
“Except the minor skirmish, the polling went off very smoothly. There are several booths that have recorded turnouts as high as 80%,” said Ranjeet Kumar, district collector of Gadchiroli.
Like Gota and the Chukalu family, most said they feared the Maoists and their unexpected attacks, but not voting was out of the question.
“The lack of development in this area is crippling. Even though they [voters] might want to sympathise with the Maoists or are forced to do so, they desperately want the fruits of development to reach them. That’s why they are willing to stick their neck out and vote for governance,” said Suresh Barsagade of the Janhit Mahiti Seva Kendra, an organisation that seeks to create awareness about government plans among backward communities.