Residents of over 120 villages in Maoist-hit Bastar to vote in their own villages for first time since Independence

Chhattisgarh polls:

By Tikeshwar Patel
Raipur, Oct 13 (PTI)

For the first time since Independence, residents of more than 120 interior villages in Chhattisgarh’s Naxalite-hit Bastar region will get a chance to vote in their own settlements in the next month’s assembly polls as new polling stations will be set up at these places, which were earlier Maoist strongholds, officials said.

The authorities are hailing the development as the victory of “ballot over bullet” as earlier voters from most of these villages had to trek 8 to 10 kilometres, crossing hills and rivulets, to cast their vote, making it difficult for them to enthusiastically participate in the electoral process.
Officials say the new polling stations in interior pockets, which were once considered as Naxal bastions, indicate the improving security scenario and strengthening democratic system in Bastar Region.
Bastar division, comprising seven districts, has 12 assembly segments which will see voting in the first phase of two-phased elections on November 7.
“More than 126 new polling stations would be established in Bastar region for voting on November 7. Majority of these new polling stations are located in the erstwhile Naxal stronghold areas in interiors,” Inspector General of Police (IGP) Bastar range Sundarraj P told PTI.
“These new polling stations will be narrating the story about the triumph of ‘ballot over bullet’ to the future generations in Bastar region,” he said.
Of the 126 new booths, 15 are located in Kanker assembly constituency, 12 in Antagarh, five in Bhanupratappur (Kanker district), 20 in Konta (Sukma district), 14 in Chitrakot, four in Jagdalpur, one in Bastar (Bastar district), 13 in Kondagaon, 19 in Keshkal (Kondagaon district), nine in Narayanpur, eight in Dantewada and six in Bijapur, he said.
Setting up of more than 65 new security camps (of both state police and central armed police forces) in the last five years in the region has resulted in remarkable change in the ground situation, thereby helping in establishing booths in remote villages, he said.
These new polling stations are an indication of the improving security scenario and strengthening democratic system in Bastar, the IG added.
According to police officials, polling booths could not be set up in the past due to difficult geographical terrain and Maoist threats in these areas.
Palo Markam, a tribal woman from Chandameta village, earlier said she had to trek for about 8 kilometres crossing hilly terrain to reach Chhindgur village to cast her vote, but now she is happy that she can vote in her own village.
Chandameta is among four villages in Jagdalpur constituency, where polling stations have been set up for the first time.
Chandameta, which was once considered to be the fort of Left Wing Extremism (LWE), is located on the foot of Tulsi Dongri hills on Chhattisgarh-Odisha border, around 65 kilometres away from Jagdalpur, the headquarter of Bastar district.
“Earlier, we had to go to Chhindgur, 8 kilometres away, to cast our vote. There was no road so one had to go via dirt tracks. The road was built just a year ago. We are very happy to have a polling booth in our village. We will vote for the one who will work for our development,” Markam said.
Shyam Kawasi, another resident of the village expressed similar sentiments, and said several voters from his village didn’t take interest in casting their votes as the polling booth was around 8 km away and there was no road facility.
This time the entire village is excited to take part in the festival of democracy, he added.
“Villagers of Chandameta had requested the district administration to set up a polling station in their village. After security forces camped in the village last year, the district administration moved swiftly with the developmental works there. Road connecting the village, school and a health centre were built. Electrification work of the village is in progress,” Bastar Collector Vijay Dayaram K said.
Most of the families in Chandameta, which has a population of 432, had a member who was associated with Naxal formations in the area before the police camp was established there, he said.
For the first time after Independence, tricolour was hoisted in the village on August 15 last year. Now, the villagers will cast their vote for the first time after Independence in their own village at the new polling booth, he said.
The village has 290 voters – 148 male and 142 female – he said, adding, “We are prepared to hold the election peacefully and successfully.”
Twelve constituencies falling in Naxalite-affected Bastar division and eight constituencies in Mohla-Manpur-Ambagarh Chowki, Rajnandgaon, Khairgarh-Chhuikhadan-Gandai and Kabirdham districts in the Congress-ruled state will go to polls in the first phase. Remaining 70 constituencies will see polling in the second phase on November 17. The counting of votes will be done on December 3.

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