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Scared Kandhamal steps out to vote

india Updated: Apr 17, 2009 00:07 IST
Soumyajit Pattnaik
Soumyajit Pattnaik
Hindustan Times
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“Though there is fear in the mind, we have voted without any problem.” Surabh Nayak, a riot victim, summed up the mood at the relief camps in Kandhamal.

Ground zero of last year’s anti-Christian riots saw a turnout of almost 65 per cent — higher the country’s average. The numbers defied recent reports, which said that people in the riot-scarred region wanted postponement of polls.

In this constituency, BJP’s Ashok Sahu, 57, is pitted against BJD’s Rudra M. Ray, 72, and Congress’s Sujit Padhi, 51. Sahu was arrested two days ago from a rally in Phulbani for giving a hate speech against Christians.

District officials in charge of the camps persuaded and convinced the people to go out and vote, as non-participation, they said, would only send out a wrong signal. Officials even held up Sahu’s arrest as an example of the government’s firm resolve to deal with “hate-mongers” in the district.

“Almost all eligible voters residing in relief camps exercised their franchise. They went in special buses to their respective polling booths. Adequate security was provided to them,” Madhusudan Padhi, special administrator for Kandhamal district, told HT.

Of the nearly 3,000 riot victims residing in the camps, 1,700 were eligible to vote. Kandhamal SP Pravin Kumar said, “The polls were conducted in a peaceful manner in Kandhamal and no untoward incident has been reported from any part of the district.”

Somnath Diggal 45, staying at the Tikabali relief camp, nearly 295 km from Bhubaneswar said, “Till last night, we were undecided. But an officer came and guaranteed complete security. Because of administrative help, we stepped out of the camps to cast our votes. The priority for the any government after the polls should be the protection of minorities and our proper rehabilitation in the villages and not in the camps.”

His neighbour in the same camp, Prafula Nayak, added, “I’m more than 60 years old and I’ve always voted. This is the first time I was in a dilemma. Due to official help, I could again exercise my franchise.”

Bhubaneswar-Cuttack archbishop Raphael Cheenath agreed there was security and the situation was better in Kandhamal, but, he said, “peace in the area would ultimately depend upon the poll results and who forms the government”.

Local sources said while people residing in relief camps got adequate security and went to the polling booths, the same was not true of Christian victims who had returned to their villages or reconverted to buy peace. Sources said, “Some of them were pressured to vote for a particular party”.

Brahmanigaon in Daringbadi block, where the seeds of the communal conflagration germinated in December 2007, reported nearly 70 per cent voting. Tumudibandh area where Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati was killed, reported nearly 40 per cent voting.