Upar Kocha villagers of Lohardaga, who abstained from voting, squat outside their polling booth on Thursday. Picture by Prashant Mitra
Lohardaga/Gumla, April 10: One vote, cast by mistake at a humble polling booth atop a forested hillock in Lohardaga Lok Sabha seat, holds out a valuable lesson for all parties and politicians, including a certain Jairam Ramesh.
For the rebel-hit Lohardaga (ST) seat, 59 per cent voters across 1,478 booths is a good score. Five years ago, only 53.42 per cent had voted. But more interesting is why the blanket Maoist poll boycott cry proved successful only in booth No. 36, Utkramit Middle School in Upar (upper) Kocha, a hillock in Kharki Tola village.
Of 627 voters, one person voted and immediately regretted it. But no, it wasn’t a case of villagers trembling under rebel guns. It was more a case of frustrated people siding with Naxalites after having to live with the reality that a promise extracted from Union rural development minister Ramesh proved powerless when pitted against local administrative apathy.
Last year, Ramesh promised Upar Kocha villagers that the region’s main lake Balubaand, which floods them every monsoon, would be bound in concrete and channelled into farmland for irrigation. Villagers claimed they followed up with local officials but instead got a playground for children, “when there’s a whole village for them to play”.
A double disregard for their wishes that found resonance in Maoist poll boycott.
“At 4pm, vote count closed at one out of 627,” booth-level officer Kabiruddin told The Telegraph.
In contrast, a kilometre downhill from Upar Kocha, another CRPF-guarded fortress Lora Kocha (Lower Kocha) saw brisk voting in booth No. 35. Of the 490 voters on the list, 245 already got their ink marks by 11.45am. “The male to female ratio is also balanced,” said booth-level officer Ravindra Kumar.
Both booth Nos. 35 and No. 36 are in Naxalite-hit Kisko in the deep underbelly of Lohardaga Lok Sabha seat, with broken hand pumps and uneven roads offering mute testimony to poor development. Poverty breeds joblessness, forced migration and trafficking.
Still, one voted and the other abstained. Upar Kocha panchayat mukhiya Chandmani Oraon only said: “We demanded just one thing from Jairam Ramesh, cement boundary walls for Balubaand and water channels to farmlands across three tolas (hamlets). He readily agreed. But when I sent a proposal (to the administration) no one heard us. We got a playground instead.”
An official said villagers should have punched the Nota (none of the above) option. “Nota was available to register their anger. Netas would have taken note of 627 Notas,” he said.
Also, for the first time, over half a dozen “model booths” were set up in Lohardaga and Gumla areas under the LS seat. These evoked mixed responses, indicating rising aspirations among some of Jharkhand’s poorest.
“Rang pani ke jagha Pepsi dena chahiye tha. (They should have given us Pepsi, not coloured water),” said Sulagna Devi at booth No. 173-174 at Bero’s state-run middle school.
Though six rounds of firing and blasts in Bamdal hills in Chainpur region were reported, there was no casualty. Poll officer Sunil Chandra Kumar suffered minor injuries in Kero village when a man stabbed him on finding his name missing from the voter list.
Otherwise, Lohardaga LS seat comprising five Assembly segments spanning Ranchi, Lohardaga and Gumla districts, saw peaceful polls. The destiny of perhaps one of three main players — BJP’s sitting MP Sudarshan Bhagat, Congressman Rameshwar Oraon and TMC’s Chamra Linda — is sealed.