Simdega/Kolebira, Dec. 11: It was a journey to where civilisation ends, and fear is most palpable; a place where people swear by one man, one woman, one party and one symbol.
The treacherous 50km excuse of a road from Kolebira to Simdega — the two crucial seats jailed former minister Anosh Ekka is contesting from — meanders through dense forests that give an uncanny feeling. Trailing Madam — aka Menon, Ekka’s better half — The Telegraph team yesterday embarked on a trip through cracked metal roads and mud tracks.
“The road has been like this ever since we can remember. Go back. The journey will be more difficult once you enter the forest.” The warning came from a ninth grader on the outskirts of Besrajara. Fifteen-year-old Xavier Kullu and his friends, Romanseus Kerketta and Ashish Joy Dungdung, who study in a missionary school, pedalled past fast. They wanted to get home before dusk. “It is not safe after that,” one of them hollered.
At Domtoli, a few kilometres from Besrajara, Menon was supposed to meet villagers for an afternoon feast of chicken curry and rice as campaigning drew to an end for the fourth phase. She was to talk about development and garner support. She came, she feasted, she conquered — and left even before The Telegraph team managed to reach Besrajara.
The naïve villagers, who have never known what development is, were more than happy to have their stomachs full. Every pattal (leaf plates) strewn on the ground seemed to pledge a vote for the nagara, Ekka’s symbol. “We will only vote for Anosh Ekka. No other politician even cared to visit us here,” said Jugal Kerketta, a villager.
Defunct tubewells, potholed roads, erased milestones, missing overhead wires from electric poles erected under Rajiv Gandhi Gramin Vidyutikaran Yojana bother Jugal and his fellow villagers the least. No political flags, other than that of Jharkhand Party (Anosh), flutter along the forested stretch of Domtoli-Besrajara-Kamlapani. The road snakes into the jungles of Birmitrapur, a Naxalite den in Orissa.
Asked which way Menon had gone, villagers said “Madam” had left for Jhapla forests, another 10km from Domtoli, “where it would not be wise to go without a local guide or securitymen”. It was past 3pm and campaigning was supposed to end, but was on in full swing in remote villages. Words like “development and corruption” do not mean anything there. Salim Bage, a resident of Kamlapani, said Jharkhand Party was the only organisation they knew. It didn’t matter if Ekka was in jail or not. “We ident ify ourselves with his nagara.”
Bardan Surin, who could not complete his BA from S.K. Bage College, Kolebira, owing to financial crisis, was “taught” that objections raised by Congress’s Simdega MLA Niel Tirkey scuttled plans to build roads on Ekka’s turf.
Back in Simdega, a trusted confidant of the former minister conceded that it was fear of rebels that prevented any kind of construction work.
Development that isn’t and fear are what politicians need to address, but they couldn’t care less.
For, in the district town of Simdega, where the likes of Ekka and Tirkey live, life is normal with electricity, Internet and mineral water.