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The name of the village is Paschim Khalisa Gosanimari. The village consists of 1,700 voters split into two polling booths. Plagued with a number of problems, and not a single solved, the villagers had decided to boycott the assembly elections. What the villagers didn’t know was that they didn’t even have the right to decide whether to vote or not.
The village falls under Sitai assembly constituency in Cooch Behar. It is a victim of erosion and many have lost their land, as the mighty river Mansa, also known as Singimari, is constantly changing its course and eating away large parts of land off the village.
Water, electricity and roads are still denied to villagers. They have not been given these basic facilities and as a result they had decided to boycott the polls. This decision of the villagers was taken seriously by the panchayat and a meeting was called a few weeks before the elections. All the villagers were also asked to attend the meeting, where they were asked to forget their issues and cast their votes. The villagers, however, refused to say whether the panchayat members had requested or ordered them to cast their votes.
On Monday, as the first phase of assembly elections began, most villagers obliged to do what they had been told and went to cast their votes without making a fuss. Mantu Sen (29) said, “We know that there will be no development in the next five years, but still most of us went to vote only because the panchayat had asked us to do so. There is the fear of not landing a job as a daily labourer. Who wants to create trouble for himself?”
Ramapada Sarkar, 52, said, “You cannot expect us to violate what the panchayat tells us. You minimise chances of getting into trouble. In the meeting we were explained the importance of voting. The importance of exercising our democratic right was also explained. Basically, it was a session where we were convinced to cast votes. Later, we decided to oblige.”
Asked if the panchayat had also asked them to vote for a particular candidate, Sarkar chose to remain silent, as other villagers standing near burst out in laughter.