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No roads, no water, no vote: Why villagers across Hindi heartland kept away from polls in Phase 4 of Lok Sabha election

Lucknow/Jaipur/Bhopal: For many voters in the Hindi heartland, the fourth phase of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections seemed less like a democratic festival and more of an occasion to voice their grievances by staying away from polling booths. As voters across Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh demonstrated their anguish over lack of development by agitating in front of polling booths, election officials rushed to try to convince them otherwise.

In Rajasthan, which saw boycott calls during the Assembly elections in December 2018, voters in Jhalawar-Baran, Jodhpur, Jaisalmer and Pali constituencies, irked with the lack of basic amenities such as roads and water, decided to keep away from the polls.

The electorate of Kolwa village in Dag Assembly segment of Jhalawar-Baran constituency and Bhagwanpura village under Khanpur Assembly segment of the same constituency boycotted the election. These voters expressed their resentment over the forgotten promise of constructing roads to their villages. Appeals from the tehsildar and other polling officials did not move the villagers at least until noon. Around the same time, Khanpur sub-divisional magistrate Pramod Kumar Singhvi was attempting to convince the sway the electorate at Bhagwanpura polling booth, who had the same complaint: no road connectivity to their village.

 No roads, no water, no vote: Why villagers across Hindi heartland kept away from polls in Phase 4 of Lok Sabha election

Booth 234 in Sandila under Hardoi Lok Sabha constituency, Uttar Pradesh, did not see a single voter turn up till 1 pm. Rangoli Agrawal, Manish Chandra Mishra and Saurabh Sharma

Several women from Khatik community of the Mahamandir area in Jodhpur, lamenting the scarcity of drinking water over the past month, boycotted polling after they were unable to meet Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot at the booth he was casting his vote at.

The women began protesting vociferously and the police had to intervene. A similar problem with potable water led voters from Kotadi village in Fatehgarh Tehsil of Jaisalmer to sit outside booth 262.

In Dhurasani village under Pali Lok Sabha constituency, not one vote was cast. Villagers just sat outside the booth. “Our village is not registered with the revenue department, so we don't get budget and there is no developmental work allotted by the government. There was a booth in the village earlier, now they have removed that as well. That is why we have boycotted the election,” said one villager.

Sitting BJP MLA from Pali, Shobha Chouhan, attempted to sway the villagers. “People aren't ready to vote because their demands have not been fulfilled. I am trying to convince them by explaining the benefits of voting,” Chouhan said.

Anand Kumar, Chief Election Officer, Rajasthan said he asked district election officers to contact those calling for a boycott. “The government has to take action (on the issue). I am not here to resolve their issues. We can pursue them. Our officers are asking them to vote because this is the only way they can influence the government. Ultimately, the government must explain why something was not constructed. We are trying our best. In some areas of Baran, voting has started,” the CEO said.

Water woes

In Madhya Pradesh, water woes and unavailability of banking facilities led voters to boycott polls in Dindori and Sidhi Lok Sabha seats. Dindori sub-divisional magistrate Rishabh Jain reached polling booth 59 located at Amthera village in Shahpura Assembly segment, where not a single vote was cast until noon.

The people of Dindori have been demanding that a canal be constructed to bring water from Bilgada dam, around two kilometres from the village. Jain ultimately succeeded in convincing the villagers to exercise their franchise.

However, voters from Karigadahari village also boycotted the polls over the water crisis. As many as five polling booths witnessed huge protests. The village sarpanch said they would vote only when the canal is built.

District election officer (DEO) Surabhi Gupta said officials had convinced villagers at most booths. "Polling is going smoothly at all booths. It was affected at some booths early in the morning due to protests,” Gupta said. Despite repeated attempts, Dindori MP Faggan Singh Kulaste remained unavailable for comment.

At Bandhwabada polling booth under Shahdol constituency, the boycott call saw a mixed response. Eight hundred of the 1,500 voters sat in protest and refused to vote for any candidate. One said, “We have been going from pillar to post with our demand, but leaders and officials have ignored us, As many as 25 villagers have lost 250 acres of land over construction of the Bandhwabada dam and have not received compensation. We will vote only after authorities reassure us.”

Shahdol MP Gyan Singh said, “I'm not aware about the incident. Voting is [a] right of any citizen and I ask them to exercise their rights.”

DEO Lalit Dahima claimed “the situation is under control,” adding that he sent a team of officials to assure the villagers that action would be taken. “As of now, we can not fulfill their demand due to the Model Code of Conduct. Villagers are casting their votes," Dahima claimed.

Another village in Shahdol constituency, Badi Ghoghri, announced boycott over alleged police inaction in the murder of a Kauslin Singh, a villager who was killed in March. A team of election officials was sent to persuade voters.

In Bihar's Samastipur, the public boycotted voting due to the closure of the Rameshwar Jute Mill. Rangoli Agrawal, Manish Chandra Mishra and Saurabh Sharma

In Bihar's Samastipur, the public boycotted voting due to the closure of the Rameshwar Jute Mill. Rangoli Agrawal, Manish Chandra Mishra and Saurabh Sharma

In Uttar Pradesh, too, some among the electorate thought boycotting polls a wiser way to protest against their elected representatives. The booth in Sandila's Khutaina village under Hardoi Lok Sabha constituency did not see a single voter turn up until 1 pm. Villagers, citing a lack of development, boycotted the polls. Even the SDM could not convince the villagers.

Hardoi DSP Nagesh Kumar Mishra was sent to Sandila. “The SDM and the block development officer have sent me along with the PWD authorities to assure the villagers that their demands will be met, but they do not believe in these assurances and are not ready to participate in this festival of democracy,” Mishra said.

A similar absence of developmental works in Chikma village saw the villagers boycotting polls. Kayamganj tehsildar rushed to convince them to vote.

Protesting against the lack of roads and other basic facilities, residents of Mustak Nagar in Jalaun Lok Sabha constituency, refused to vote. Kheri Lok Sabha constituency also witnessed several boycotts over poor or no roads, and lack of healthcare, among other issues. In Gola tehsil, two villages with around 1,000 voters each boycotted the polls.

Kheri election official Shailendra Singh said that reports of boycott came from two areas and SDMs were sent to convince people to not abstain from their right to participate in democracy. Under Unnao constituency, reports of boycott came from villages under Safipur tehsil. Sarpanch of Dhullowa village said shifting of the booth six kilometres away to Sikanderpur was why they were boycotting the polls. “Our repeated requests to keep a booth closer to the village were ignored,” he said.

In Barati Khera village of Hassanganj, poor condition of roads, scarcity of water and electricity forced voters to call for a boycott, but District Magistrate Devendra Kumar Pandey, along with the SP, succeeded in convincing them to cast their votes. Pandey said the villagers have a genuine concern about sanctioned developmental works that have not been completed.

“We have taken cognisance and assured the villagers that these works will be executed as per plan. We have also instructed officials to prepare a list of beneficiaries who have been left out of any government schemes, so that they can access the rightful aid,” Pandey added.

Even in Bihar’s Samastipur Lok Sabha seat, the public boycotted voting due to the closure of Rameshwar Jute Mill. However, it remains to be seen if this act of defiance from voters amid the fervour of ‘democratic festival’ will have any impact on politicos.

The authors are freelance writers and members of 101Reporters.com

 

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Updated Date: Apr 29, 2019 22:56:58 IST