Half bent, his body supported with a walking stick, Brikhaban Das, 80, could hardly walk under the scorching sun. His shaking hands tried in vain to hold his voter card as the photographer asked him to pose. But this day was a moment of glory for Biswas, who could not vote since 2001.
It was a celebration of democracy in the Maoist heartland of Lalgarh and surrounding areas. Unprecedented security cover along with a relaxed vote boycott call by Maoists allowed the people to come out and cast their mandate.
"I could not vote since 2001. First, because of the Marxists and then the Maoists. But this time it is different. I heard about the security and saw security personnel with guns roaming around. I saw my neighbour leaving his house for the polling station. I wore my best dhoti and shirt and here I am to press the button," said Das.
Men, women and youths in villages of Jhargarm, Lalgarh, Salboni and Nayagram areas queued up early even before the polling began. Many visited the polling station on Tuesday evening with cans, bricks and other items trying to jockey for a position until dissuaded by the joint forces personnel.
Women dressed in colourful saris were seen standing patiently in long queues along with men. Some of them had babies in their laps. "There is so much police around. My family and I could not vote in the Lok Sabha polls. But this time we made it," said Fulrani Hansda of Amlia village, who queued up for two hours to cast her vote.
At Sejua primary school, by noon, 696 out of 1,015 votes were polled. At Rameshwarpur primary school, by 1 pm, 84 .46% of the votes were polled. A similar rush was seen at Kantapahari high school, which was once a Maoist stronghold. In Lalgarh-Jhargram belt over 80% polls took place by afternoon. Overall around 85.66% of votes were cast till 3 pm. At some booths, small queues remained.
The security forces took up position even before dawn. Central forces on motorbikes, jeep and pickup vans began patrolling since 2 am.
A staggering 360 companies of central forces were in place. Check-posts were put up in major roads leading to Lalgarh and Jhargram. Central forces were seen checking each and every vehicle moving in and out of the area.