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Odisha poll officials take torturous route to keep EVMs safe from Maoists

While Maoists elsewhere in Odisha and Chhatisgarh ensured that low voter turnout in many pockets, 36 polling officials in Maoist-affected Malkangiri district ensured that democracy was not subverted by the left wing rebels.

lok sabha elections Updated: Apr 14, 2019 12:29 IST
Debabrata Mohanty
Debabrata Mohanty
Hindustan Times, Bhubaneswar
Polling,Lok Sabha elections 2019,General elections 2019
An alternative but tortuous route was quickly chalked out by the police officials. It was decided that the polling officials would take a detour and walk through a mountain so as to give the Maoists a slip

They trudged through a steep mountain, braved a storm, mosquito bites and quenched their thirst by drinking water from a nullah. And all these, while clutching the sealed Electronic Voting Machines close to their heart.

While Maoists elsewhere in Odisha and Chhatisgarh ensured that low voter turnout in many pockets, 36 polling officials in Maoist-affected Malkangiri district ensured that democracy was not subverted by the left wing rebels.

Soon after the polling ended at Mudulipada High School of Bondaghati area in Maoist-affected Malkangiri district on Thursday afternoon, the 36 polling officials thought their duties would be over in a couple of hours once they deposit the sealed EVMs and VVPAT machines in the strongrooms of Malkangiri. But an urgent message from police about Maoists laying ambush on their return route ended that hope.

“There were credible information that Maoists were waiting to ambush the polling party and the accompanying anti-Maoist Special Operations Group jawans. There was no way we could allow the polling officials to travel in a vehicle on the pre-designated road,” said Malkangiri superintendent of police Jagmohan Meena. With Maoists killing a BJP MLA and four security personnel in Chhattisgarh two days before the first phase of polls, the officials took no chances.

An alternative but tortuous route was quickly chalked out by the police officials. It was decided that the polling officials would take a detour and walk through a mountain so as to give the Maoists a slip.

“We kept walking through mountain and thorny bushes careful of not slipping down. It was difficult walking holding all the heavy EVMs. But the SOG jawans kept our spirits high. They shared their dry foods with us. We even drank water from the nullah,” said Samal Routray, one of the polling officials.

On the way, a thunderstorm brought the polling officials to a halt forcing them to huddle under tarpaulin sheets. While the officials tried to give some rest to their tired limbs, the SOG jawans threw a security cordon around the polling parties throughout the Thursday night. “They shared their communication equipments like VHF and satellite phones with the polling officials to keep the officials at district headquarters informed about their journey. The SOG personnel encouraged polling parties when they could not walk anymore,” said Meena.

Tired, hungry and sleepless, the polling officials reached Khairput on Friday morning from where they were taken to Malkangiri on Friday morning. “We thought it was impossible for us to make it to Malkangiri with EVMs intact. But we did it. It would remain in our memory forever,” said a polling official.

Also Read | EC officials trek 13,583 ft to conduct polls in Arunachal Pradesh

Malkangiri district which comes under Nabarangpur Lok Sabha constituency, recorded 72.5% polling on Thursday, better than that reported in the last election in 2014.

Nabarangpur MP candidate of Congress, Pradeep Majhi said the polling officials walking 15 km to ensure safety of the EVMs proved that democracy is a winner. “As long as we have such polling officials and securitymen ready to guard them, no one can subvert democracy. It’s a great day for democracy,” said Majhi.

First Published: Apr 14, 2019 11:06 IST