When Malini Hansda, 22, cast her first vote on Tuesday at Mitha Aam primary school in Ranibandh assembly constituency after waging war against the state for a year, she was escorted by a team of 50 policemen to the polling station.
Hansda, a Maoist guerrilla who surrendered on January 31, was one of the most conspicuous voters in the state as so far only seven rebels have surrendered. And out of this small group, Hansda is one of two candidates whose new-found confidence in parliamentary democracy has led them to polling stations.
While a team of 50 police and paramilitary personnel on motorbikes escorted Hansda, Debalina Hembram, minister of state, backward classes welfare department, and CPI(M) candidate from Ranibandh, who faces life threat from the Maoists, had 10 cops following her in a four-wheeler when she went to Ranibadh high school to cast her vote.
"I think electoral democracy is a much better option than armed struggle. That's why I've quit that path and have cast my vote this year. We don't need bullets to protests, ballots are a fair option," said Hansda after coming out of the polling booth.
Zulfikar Hassan (IG, Western Range) said two surrendered Maoists have voted.
Hansda had joined the Maoist ranks in July 2010, a few months after she graduated in arts from Khatra College, where the Maoists are believed to have penetrated significantly among the students.
During her days in college, she became close to some classmates who were Maoist activists. Later, she met some senior leaders, too, who indoctrinated her in Maoist philosophy of armed struggle.
The glory of Silda attack on February 15, 2010, in which 24 EFR jawans were killed, had further attracted her, along with some other friends, towards taking part in an armed revolution.
After initially joining as a guerrilla in the Ranibandh squad of Maoists, she was later shifted to their Banspahari squad in neighbouring West Midnapore. But six months were enough, she says, to be disillusioned with the Maoist ideology.
"There is too much violence in that life. It's almost endless violence. We want peace and development for sure, but not at the cost of so much violence and bloodshed," said the girl, who since quitting the organisation has been living in a home, the name and location of which has been kept secret.