| Villagers stage a protest at Sissen. Picture by author |
Pasighat, April 17: Election officials will once again attempt to set up a polling booth at Sissen village in Arunachal Pradesh’s East Siang district on Saturday —10 days after disgruntled villagers prevented their entry.
The 135 voters of the village had been agitating against the lack of development in the area and, on April 9, protesters damaged around 10-15 metres of the lone hanging bridge that connects the village to the district headquarters of Pasighat to prohibit the entry of polling and security officials.
Thus polls for the Arunachal East Parliamentary and Pangin Assembly constituencies could not be held in Sissen.
The decision to hold elections on Saturday was taken after a meeting between the agitators and the deputy commissioner on Wednesday.
Karunath Pazing, an activist from the area, said the deputy commissioner appealed to the villagers to allow officials to set up a booth in the area.
“We will not stop any official from entering the village but our stand remains the same and we will not vote on Saturday”, Pazing said.
Hoping that the agitators would change their minds, East Siang deputy commissioner Nidhi Srivastava said, “Voting is a constitutional right and everyone should participate in elections responsibly.”
The villagers had earlier demanded that a road from Pasighat to the nearby Pongging village be built to ease movement, especially for patients who have to be carried on people’s backs.
Many people have died owing to non-availability of timely medical treatment.
Srivastava told the villagers that talks were under way with the Air Force to assess the possibility of airlifting patients in case of emergencies.
Exuding confidence that the protest will bear fruit, Pazing said the “next time there will be a bigger explosion”.
The tiny village has gained many supporters from across the state. Expressing solidarity with the protesters are two NGOs — the Arunachal Civil Society and the state unit of the Association for Democratic Rights.
Arunachal Civil Society chairman Patey Tayum said the villagers’ demands were genuine and blamed politicians for the lax development of the area.
“Politicians have been making promises to villagers for the last 37 years. But as soon as they are elected they forget about the village,” he said.
Nani Bath, of the Association for Democratic Rights, also feels that lack of political will has stunted development of the area.
“The village has been neglected by politicians because of the small number of voters,” Bath said.
Both Tayum and Bath have met the protesting villagers and will try to convince voters to opt for the NOTA option on Saturday. “It’s a better option to make their voice heard,” Bath said.
Since April 9, villagers have held protests across various towns and villages in the district. Sissen village is located just a few kilometres from the district headquarters of Pasighat, where the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi had addressed his maiden rally in the state on February 22.
Besides Sissen, repolling will be held in 33 polling stations in 10 Assembly constituencies across the sate on Saturday, an official statement from the state chief electoral officer said. All 33 polling stations fall under the Arunachal West Parliamentary constituency.