No river too wide, no forest too dense for voters in Gadchiroli

  • Kunal Purohit, Hindustan Times, Bhamragad (Gadchiroli)
  • Updated: Oct 16, 2014 20:22 IST

Tribal farmer Lachu Matang, 30, left home at 7am sharp on Wednesday. First, he walked 1 km from his village of Moradpur to the riverbank, then stood in line for a dongi or narrow boat to take him across. After that, it was another walk, another queue, another river and another dongi, then a final 4-km walk to his polling station. He voted just after 11am.

Mantang wasn't alone. Thousands of voters from across Modaspar, Aldandi and seven other villages in the Bhamragad taluka of Gadchiroli crossed two rivers and trekked a total of more than 10km each to participate in the state assembly polls.

Cops provided lunch for villagers who walked long distances to vote in Lahiri, Gadchiroli. (Anshuman Poyrekar/HT photo)

In an ironic reflection of their situation, trapped between geography and Maoist forces, security personnel had refused to set up polling stations closer to their homes because of the threat from militants.

This is, after all, the Maoist heartland, a region where every elections prompts a boycott call. And the villages are isolated by a river on one side and the Maoist - dominated Abujhmad forest on the other.

"Previously, polling booths were set up in these villages. However, officials decided to shift these booths for the assembly polls considering the serious security threat in these villages," says Vishal Thakur, Gadchiroli deputy superintendent of police.

In another stroke of irony, it turns out that the voters know next to nothing about their local representatives - since there has been no campaigning here in decades, and there is little government presence overall in the region.

These villages have no electricity or piped water, and no road links to the rest of the district.

Many villagers do not even know the name of the country's new prime minister, nor the names of their local assembly candidates.

There are no newspapers here, and few could read them if they arrived. With no electricity, there is no TV either.

Matang says he voted for the kamal (lotus, the symbol of the BJP) on Wednesday, as well as in the general election held earlier this year, because 'all of us in the village had decided to do so, after the elders told us to'. So why the eight-hour return trip to the polling booth? Hope, he says.

"I still haven't got the pattas [land deeds] for my plot," he adds. "It's been two years since I applied and I've got no response. I'm hoping that after this election we'll get a leader who will be able to help."

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