They are scared of their vote | india | Hindustan Times
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They are scared of their vote

As Kandhamal goes to polls in the first phase on April 16, not many are willing to speak about their choice of candidates to the media except the 3000-odd riot victims residing in its six refugee camps. The riot victims have nothing to hide as they have decided not to cast their votes, reports Soumyajit Pattnaik.

india Updated: Apr 13, 2009 01:26 IST
Soumyajit Pattnaik

An eerie silence pervades Kandhamal district as it goes to polls in the first phase on April 16. Not many are willing to speak about their choice of candidates to the media except the 3000-odd riot victims residing in its six refugee camps.

The riot victims have nothing to hide as they have decided not to cast their votes. The others will let the world know abut their choice on polling day with saffron flags (not BJP flags with lotus symbol) fluttering atop houses, shops, electric poles and trees.

History of violence

Dec 24, 2007: Swami Lakshmananda Saraswati attacked
Dec 25, 2007: VHP calls bandh; widespread violence
Dec 26, 2007: Violence continues, four killed, 40 churches damaged
Aug 23, 2008: Swami Saraswati murdered, allegedly by Maoists
Aug 24-27, 2008: Anarchy in Kandhamal, Christian villages attacked, 42 killed, 150 churches burnt, a nun raped, 22,000 people take refuge in relief camps

Satyaban Diggal, 34, a wall painter from Gandagam village of Kandhamal who is still residing at the Tikabali relief camp, told HT: “Unless the booths are set up right here, it’s not possible to vote. We will not step out on polling day as we expect further violence after the polls as the polarisation has been complete”. The Tikabali camp is in G. Udaygiri Assembly constituency from where the BJP has fielded Manoj Pradhan as its MLA candidate. Nearly 14 riot-related cases have been lodged against Pradhan and he’s currently in the G. Udaygiri sub-jail. “If we vote and Pradhan loses, more violence will follow,” another victim said.

Kabi Diggal, 37, another victim said, “My brother Manoranjan died here in the camp two months back and we took his body to our village for a burial. We were not even allowed to enter Sartaguda and my brother was laid to rest near this relief camp. Do you think they’ll allow us to cast our votes”?

Pitrara Diggal, 26, of Katadi village similarly said, “Our houses were burnt in the presence of police personnel. What’s the guarantee we will not be harmed if we go to our village even with a police escort for voting?”

District officials have decided not to put special polling booths at the relief camps as the world will come to know whom they voted for during the counting and it may further aggravate problems. Kandhamal SP Pravein Kumar told HT, “We’ve arranged buses to take the people residing in relief camps to their polling booths and adequate security will be given to them...”

In the Kandhamal Lok Sabha constituency, BJP’s Ashok Sahu, 57, is pitted against Rudra M. Ray, 72, of BJD and Sujit Padhi, 51, of the Congress. Out of the seven assembly segments of this LS constituency, four — Bhanjanagar, Dasapalla, Boudh and Kanatamala — are in the neighbouring districts of Ganjam, Nayagarh and Boudh. These four segments have been traditional BJD strongholds and thus Ray is considered as a favourite to win this LS seat.

In the three assembly seats of Kandhamal district, Phulbani, Baliguda and Gudaygiri, polarisation is complete and it’s difficult to guess the winners. The fragmentation of secular votes between the BJD and Congress after the BJD-BJP split may suit the saffron party. But in the end, it’s going to be a very close finish. At present, the BJD, Congress and BJP have a seat each.