|First-time voters (from left) Nazia, Nusharat and Afroz show off their inked fingers after casting their vote in Daltonganj on Thursday. Picture by Saikat Chattopadhya
Palamau/Chatra, April 10: A first-time voter confidently spoke on her power to change India, a citizen aged 100-plus recalled a party that existed between 1951 and 1977, a man on a wheelchair waited patiently for his EVM turn and a vigilante complained to poll officials against laddoo bribes.
Over 58 per cent citizens of Palamau, Chatra, Koderma and Lohardaga Lok Sabha seats today broadly defied the poll boycott call of rebel outfits to cast votes, kick-starting Day One in Jharkhand on a positive note.
Five years ago, barely 50 per cent had voted in these four constituencies. In the 1,928 booths of Palamau and 1,481 of Chatra, poll turnout was 59 per cent and 54 per cent. Lohardaga’s 1,478 booths saw 59 per cent turnout. Across Koderma’s 2,172 booths, voter turnout touched a high 61 per cent (see box).
Hard numbers signify a softening of Maoist-inured people towards democracy.
Barring sporadic low-intensity serial blasts in Chatra pockets, poll proceedings were peaceful thanks to heavy security cover.
Rebels triggered blasts in Chhipadohar thana area of Latehar district under Chatra seat after sunrise and around 1.30pm. But Latehar SP Michael Raj S. maintained no major untoward incident took place. “Rebels wanted to terrorise us. But everything was under control,” he said.
Rebel-hit Garhwa district, under Palamau Lok Sabha seat, was peaceful. “Everything went off well. Seems unbelievable,” said Garhwa SP S.K. Jha.
Across voting hours 7am to 4pm, Daltonganj town, Palamau, bustled with excitement. First-time voters Afroz Parveen, Nazia Parveen and Nusharat Parveen, among the first to vote, chirped in unison they had been waiting for this day.
“Our votes will determine the country’s new fate,” Afroz said. “If one vote can topple or save a government in Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha, then bigger changes are expected from our three votes,” Nazia chipped in.
Centenarian Gokarna Shukla hobbled with his grandson to vote in Kamalkedia village in picturesque Leslieganj block, Chatra.
“Hum to deepakwe ke time se vote de rahe hain (I’ve been voting since the time of the lamp),” he said, referring to the lighted lamp symbol of erstwhile Jan Sangh.
In Neora village, Chainpur block in Palamau, Sadik Miyan and Md Jamaluddin reached the booth on wheelchairs.
“We did hear about special provisions, including ramps. We didn’t see anything here, but for us voting for the country is most important,” Sadik said. “My vote, my voice,” Jamaluddin said.
At another booth in Neora, a comic altercation showed voter seriousness. One Yaqub Ansari informed poll officials that a villager was offering two laddoos at a time to bribe voters. The “laddoo man” and the huddle around him vanished in a jiffy.
“Major parties like the Congress and BJP are fighting this election on development plank. Tell me, why should someone distract poor people with laddoos?” Ansari asked.
In Palamau, the main fight is between former director-general of police V.D. Ram and sitting MP Kameshwar Baitha, former Maoist and a JMM defector contesting on a TMC ticket. The JMM conceded the seat to pre-poll ally RJD, which fielded former MP Manoj Kumar Bhuiyan. Bhuiyan apart, JVM’s Ghuran Ram is also a name to reckon with.
Chatra is also witnessing a multi-cornered fight, between BJP’s Sunil Kumar Singh and Congressman and Rajya Sabha MP Dhiraj Prasad Sahu, Ajsu nominee and former MP and minister Nagmani. Sitting MP Inder Singh Namdhari, an Independent backed by the BJP last time, decided not to contest.
A former CPI(Maoist) politburo member Yugal Pal, now trying his luck in mainstream politics along with his wife Shobha, summed up the change: “People have understood the difference roads and hand pumps make to their lives.”