In West Bengal’s Lalgarh area, the message was loud and clear: “We don’t believe in the system.” And it echoed throughout the state’s Maoist-infested region on Thursday, when 14 constituencies across nine districts went to the polls.
Under the shadow of the Maoist threat, an unprecedented election boycott was observed in the tribal-dominated areas of West Midnapore, Purulia and Bankura as well as the Dooars region of North Bengal.
Eight booths of Lalgarh saw no voters; in Belpahari, 13 booths stood empty and in the other areas of the state, 96 booths registered no polling.
Even the touring CRPF personnel were surprised. S.N. Pathak, Assistant Commandant of CRPF, said: “We have experience working in Maoist-troubled zones. We have not seen such type of low voting in other states.”
The focal point was Lalgarh — part of the Jhargram constituency — where tribal uprising against police atrocities has reached its peak. Here voter turnout was pegged at a mere 13 per cent.
Since November, no police or district administration officials have been allowed inside the region. The People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities — spearheading the movement and supported by the Maoists – forced the Election Commission to uniquely have 49 booths combined into four.
Home Secretary Ardhendu Sen has been candid in admitting that the Maoists’ call for poll boycott has affected voter turnout. It is apparent that voters were terror-stricken and did not venture out of their houses, he added.
Of the 30,000 voters in Lalgarh, not more than 100 voted. For example, of the 973 voters at Kalaimari Primary School in Pirakata, not a single person had turned to vote till 9.45am. At the end, only 15 per cent cast their votes.
Another special booth set up at Garra Primary School in Lalgarh’s Pirakata area remained empty. Of the 673 voters, not one turned up.
In Bankura and Purulia districts too, where Maoists distributed leaflets and put up posters all over the region, few voters turned up. At Mahishmara booth in Bankura, two men arrived on a motorbike in the morning and warned everyone to stay away. No one turned up after that.