|Special Task Force personnel patrol a road on bikes at Sahebganj in Vaishali on Monday. Picture by Lokesh Bihari
Defying rebels’ diktat, voters of all ages in Mohabbatpur, 95km north of Patna, came out in huge numbers to cast their votes.
Mohabbatpur falls under Sahebganj Assembly segment of Vaishali parliamentary constituency. Active voting was also reported from other rebel-affected villages like Chaki Suhagpur, Usti, Singhai, Chand Kevari, Bishunpur, Saraiya, Deoriya, Jafarpur and Dharphari.
“Mera kaam vote dena hai, unka kaam boycott call dena hai. (My task is to vote and their job is to give a boycott call,” said Sudarshan Sahni of Mohabbatpur village.
Voters felt encouraged to ignore the rebels’ boycott call because of deployment of CRPF personnel closely on a long stretch of roads leading to Sahebganj and Paroo, two Maoists-hit segments of Vaishali in the western part of the district. Equipped with sophisticated firearms and communication systems, central forces could be seen in every rural road and lane of the village, leaving residents with just the will to brave the 42°C heat to go and vote.
The forces were also guarding the riverbeds of the Gandak, Budhi Gandak, and Baya rivers in the Sahebganj riverine belt to restrict influx of rebels from Saran district. All these arrangements goaded voters to go and cast votes, said district magistrate-cum-district election officer Anupam Kumar.
Around 10 motorboats were patrolling the rivers, senior superintendent of police (SSP) Ranjit Kumar Mishra said. Mounted squads secured the banks. Anti-landmine vehicles were moving around with sniffer dogs to remove landmines if any, said the SSP.
Rebels belonging to the zonal sub-committee of CPI(Maoist) in Muzaffarpur and Vaishali had distributed leaflets and pasted posters under cover of darkness on April 28, asking villagers to refrain from voting.
“But the voters oblivious of consequences, mustered courage to vote,” said Bhopal Sahni at a polling booth of Bangara Nizamat village under Paroo segment.
Police opened fire in the air to disperse unruly villagers outside a polling booth in Bangra Nizamat. Elsewhere, in Pipra village under Minapur Assembly segment, the police had to resort to a mild lathicharge after some commotion by voters.
Huge turnout in rebel areas was also attributed to efforts undertaken by the Election Commission to educate voters through cultural events and increase voting turnout. Nazir Ali of Deoriya village in Sahebganj Assembly segment said voters were emboldened also because they had been provided mobile numbers of poll observers, district magistrate, senior superintendent of police (SSP) and top officials to talk to about poll preparedness and share their fears with.
Except for a few sporadic incidents, elections were peaceful. A long queue of voters could be seen outside polling booths in Kanti and Minapur Assembly areas.
Aged men and women, braving the blistering heat, queued up to exercise their vote.
According to the buzz, the contest in Vaishali was becoming a triangular one, with sitting MP and former Union minister Raghuvansh Prasad finding it hard to defend it. Annu Shukla’s presence as an Independent was proving costly to the RJD-Congress nominee, said teacher of psychology professor Raza Haider Rizwi of Kolhuva village in Kanti Assembly segment.
Muslim and Rajput votes, that played a decisive role in Raghuvansh’s victory were noticeably getting divided. LJP candidate Rama Kumar Singh is also a Rajput and could divide a few votes. Annu had promised, during electioneering, to join the RJD if voted to power. It has reportedly helped her hijack a large chunk of Muslims votes in Muslim-dominated villages, said Sabir Khan of Majholi village in Vaishali Assembly segment.