Bardan Guria (below right) was among the many Saranda villagers who trekked for hours to reach their poll booth in Digha on Thursday. Pictures by Prashant Mitra
Manoharpur, April 17: The forests of Saranda came alive, not with the sound of Maoist gunfire, but with the hustle and bustle of people eager to vote in a scene replayed across six Lok Sabha constituencies of Jharkhand that went to polls today.
Bardan Guria, a 22-year-old physically challenged man, rode his bicycle for over 40km from his village of Bitkalsoi, to reach Digha polling station, set up at the lone government school in the panchayat.
“Mujhe toh aana hi tha. Yeh CRPF log gaon mein jake sab ko bole vote dene se sab ka achcha hoga. (I had to come. CRPF jawans visited our villages to tell us that voting would do us good),” he said, alluding to a sense of freedom across the 820sqkm sal forest reserve, till mid-2011 an impregnable Maoist fortress within West Singhbhum district.
Guria’s zeal reflected a mood palpable across the six constituencies of Giridih, Khunti, Singhbhum and the urban conglomerates of Ranchi, Jamshedpur and Hazaribagh.
The overall voting percentage of the day was 61.73, appreciably higher than the 51.25 of 2009 and 55.35 of 2004. Each of the six constituencies that voted surpassed previous turnouts (see chart), while the highest was recorded in Jamshedpur at 65 per cent.
If Digha panchayat of Manoharpur block in Saranda is a test case for the Centre that spearheaded Rs 249-crore development initiative in the former Naxalite hub, then today’s voting pattern is a high score.
The two Assembly segments that cover Saranda, Jagarnathpur and Manoharpur reported 62 per cent voter turnout against 60.31 and 53.70 in 2009.
Hundreds of villagers from Guria’s village and neighbouring Tirilposi and Digha took the over-40km journey to vote, too. Some came on foot, while others hitched a ride on “trailers” or open trucks.
“This is unprecedented in the Saranda region,” remarked Bhola Shankar Pathak, patrolling magistrate-cum-sector officer of Digha panchayat.
Saranda is part of Singhbhum constituency where former chief minister Madhu Koda’s wife Geeta is pitted against Dashrath Gagrai of the JVM, Congressman Chitrasen Sinku, Laxman Gilua of the BJP and Salkhan Murmu of Jharkhand Disom Party in a multi-cornered contest.
Three booths, earmarked for voters from the three villages of Digha, Tirilposi and Bitkalsoi, had been set up at the school.
By 11am, of the 399 voters of Digha village, 265 had cast their votes. Of 566 voters of Bitkalsoi, 100 had done their duty, while of the 242 voters of Tirilposi, 136 had got ink marks on their fingers.
Guria couldn’t hide his excitement at being able to vote.
“As a kid, I have seen bad days due to Naxalism. There used to be a rebel (MCC) camp in my village. Many lives were lost. Several people left. Now, I want to roam freely, go anywhere and everywhere,” he smiled.
Guria’s mother Asha could not vote because of a leg ailment. But, he said, father Suleman and brothers Herman, Sagen, Prakash and Najam would definitely do so.
Elsewhere, the trend was similar.
Sushil Lakra was part of a 70-member contingent of families who had travelled over 50km by foot and on trailers from places like Rewda and Nawagaon. They brought along their children and packed their lunch that they ate after casting their vote.
Chotanagra, another sensitive area some 35km from Manoharpur, saw brisk voting since morning.
Agreed Yogendranath Rana, a government school teacher and block officer of Chotanagra, another highly sensitive region, around 35km from Manoharpur block office.
Rana, a government school teacher and block officer said that by 3pm, booth 25 in Jampula meant for residents of Jojogutu, around 5km from Chottanagra panchayat, registered 445 votes. Only about 100 voters remained.
At booth 23, 698 of 833 had cast their vote till 3pm. At booth 19 for residents of Kumri, 200 of 344 voters and at booth 20 (Marangpongo), 563 out of 949 had registered their choice by 2pm.
“Everything is peaceful and we are all highly motivated. Saranda hasn’t seen this before, either in 2004 or 2009,” Rana said.