Guided by guerrillas, into the Naxalite heartland
|A booth at Parsabera in Dumri under lock and key on Wednesday. (Shahnawaz Akhtar)|
Giridih, Dec. 3: We were being watched.
As soon as our bike turned off the main Giridih-Dumri road towards the villages off the beaten track where polling was in progress yesterday, we were stopped by a group of three young men. They had been following our progress for some time — since the time we stopped for tea and snacks.
“Aap log andar jana chahte hai (you want to go into the interiors)?” one of them asked. He seemed to know the answer. Just as he seemed to know who we were. “We know you, so don’t worry. You can go in but remember to stick to pucca roads. Never move on dirt tracks,” he added.
Some more advice followed. “At any cost return before 2pm. While moving, keep looking on either side. You will see everything you want to see.” Soon they got on to their bike and asked us to follow. After half a kilometre, the man who had spoken earlier turned towards us again. “From here you have to go alone, the police camp is ahead,” he said.
They left us then. Later, we learnt that our guide was none other than the right hand man of the Maoist sub-zonal commander of Uttarakhand area, Ranvir alias Nago Da. All three men had been armed. We moved ahead and soon saw a police camp, just like our Naxalite guide had said we would.
The camp housed three booths — 57, 58, 60 — of Dumri Assembly segment. But till midday, not a single voter had turned up.
After moving ahead for another two kilometres, we came across the booth of Fatehpur village (number 37). It was a surreal sight. There was not a single polling official or securityman present at the spot. The polling station was locked. While no voter and no polling agent is not unheard of in booths located in Naxalite dominated areas, no polling personnel or forces present is unusual.
Soon we knew the reason. At polling station number 35 in Parsabera we came across both — polling personnel and security forces. They told us that till 9.30am they were at booth number 37, and then they saw around a 1000 armed rebels on the hills adjacent to the booth.
“As soon as we saw them we fled. We were only seven and they were so many. We closed the booth and came here to add to the numbers,” said Indian Reserve Battalion jawan. Joining them were poll personnel and security forces from booth number 36, who had a similar story to narrate.
As we moved on, we saw more locked booths —22, 23, 24 and 25 at Basokando village. The polling personnel had packed up and left a little after noon. “What was the use of staying? No one was going to turn up and anything could happen,” said a jawan.
Some polling personnel advised us not to venture further and instead head back to safety with them. But we moved on. Ahead at one more booth, some boys told us the entire team had gone back at 9.30am. We decided to call it a day.