101Reporters Desk | Apr 28, 2019 | 8 min read
Officials reach out to boycotting voters, plead them to cast their votes
Rangoli Agrawal, Manish Chandra Mishra & Saurabh Sharma
Lucknow/Jaipur/Bhopal: For many voters in the Hindi heartland states, the fourth phase of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections did not seem a democratic festival, but an occasion to voice their grievances by staying away from voting. As voters across Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh demonstrated their anguish over lack of the promised development by agitating in front of polling booths, election officials rushed to convince them not to boycott the polls.
In Rajasthan, which saw boycott calls earlier as well during the Assembly elections in December 2018, voters in Jhalawar-Baran, Jodhpur, Jaisalmer and Pali constituencies decided to boycott the polls over various regions, mostly irked with lack of basic amenities such as roads and water.
Electorate in Kolwa village in Dag Assembly segment of Jhalawar-Baran LS constituency and in Bhagwanpura village under Khanpur Assembly segment of the same constituency boycotted the election. These voters expressed their resentment over forgotten promises of constructing a road to their villages. Appeals from the tehsildar and other polling officials had not deterred the villagers until an hour after noon. Around the same time, Khanpur sub-divisional magistrate Pramod Kumar Singhvi was trying to convince the electorate at Bhagwanpura polling booth, who had the same complaint about no road connectivity to their village.
Several women from Khatik community of the Mahamandir area in Jodhpur, lamenting the severe scarcity of drinking water over the last month, boycotted polling after they were unable to meet Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot at the polling booth where he had come to cast his vote. Unable to meet the CM, the women started protesting vociferously and the police had to intervene to bring the situation under control. A similar problem with potable water led voters from Kotadi village in Fatehgarh Tehsil of Jaisalmer to boycott polls by sitting outside the polling booth no 262 in the constituency, where they had their votes registered.
In Dhurasani village under Pali Lok Sabha constituency, not even one vote was cast as villagers sat in protest outside the polling booth.
“Our village is not registered with the revenue department, so we don't get budget and there is no development 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 of the villagers from Dhurasani village.
Sitting BJP MLA from Pali, Shobha Chouhan, reached the spot to convince the villagers. “People here are not ready to vote because their demands have not been fulfilled. I have reached the spot and I am trying to convince them by telling them the benefits for voting.”
Anand Kumar, Chief Election Officer, Rajasthan said he had asked the district election officers to contact the people calling for a boycott of general elections.
“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 to do a particular action. Ultimately government can tell why something was not constructed. We are trying our best. In some areas of Baran, people have also agreed and the voting has started,” the CEO said.
In Madhya Pradesh, water woes and unavailability of banking facilities led voters to boycott polls in Dindori and Sidhi Lok Sabha seats, respectively. Dindori SDM Rishabh Jain had reached polling booth no 59 located at Amthera village in Shahpura assembly segment, where not a single vote was cast until noon, to appeal to voters who have been asking for a canal to be brought from the Bilgada dam, located at a distance of 2kms from the village. Jain succeeded in convincing the villagers here to practice their constitutional right.
However, voters from Karigadahari village also boycotted the poll over water crisis. As many as five polling booths witnessed huge protests. Village Sarpanch said they would vote only when the canal they are demanding is built.
District election officer (DEO) Surabhi Gupta said officials had convinced villagers at most of the booths from where they got information about boycott of the voting franchise. "Polling is going smoothly at all the booths. It was affected at some booths early in the morning due to protests.”
Attempts made to get a reaction from Dindori MP Faggan Singh Kulaste went in vain.
At Bandhwabada polling booth under Shahdol constituency, the boycott call for a canal saw a mixed response, as a majority 800 of the total around 1500 voters from the village sat in protests refusing to vote for any of the contesting political representatives. One of them said, “We have been going pillar to post with demand of canal, but the leaders and officials have ignored our demand. As many as 25 villagers have lost their 250 acres land over construction of the dam [Bandhwabada dam] and their compensation is still due. Authorities have to assure us about canal then only we will vote.”
Shahdol MP Gyan Singh, when asked about the development from Bandhwabada, said, “I'm not aware about the incidence. Voting is [a] right of any citizen and I appeal that they must practise their right.”
DEO Lalit Dahima, however, claimed “the situation is now under control”. He said that he had sent a team of officials to the village to assure them that necessary action would be taken. “As of now, we can not fulfil their demand due to Model Code of Conduct. Now, villagers are casting their votes."
Another village in Shahdol constituency, Badi Ghoghri, announced boycott of election over police inaction in murder case of a fellow villager, Kauslin Singh, who was killed in March this year. A team of election officials was sent to convince the voters in this village as well.
In Uttar Pradesh, too, some among the electorate thought boycotting polls a wiser way to protest against the irresponsible representatives.
Booth number 234 in Khutaina village in Sandila under Hardoi Lok Sabha constituency, had not witnessed a single voter until after 1pm. Villagers boycotted the polls citing no development of the region, which is infamous for traditional prostitution, leading to politicians turning a blind eye towards it. Even the SDM could not convince the villagers here to vote.
DSP, Hardoi, 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 told Firstpost.
Similar absence of any development works in Chikma village saw the villagers boycotting polls. Kayamganj tehsildar was 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, stayed away from their democratic rights.
Kheri Lok Sabha constituency also witnessed several incidents of boycott over poor or no roads, lack of healthcare facilities among other issues. In Gola tehsil, two villages with about 1000 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 the democracy.
Under Unnao constituency, reports of boycott came from villages under Safipur tehsil. Sarpanch of Dhullowa village said shifting of the booth six kilometre away to Sikanderpur was why they were boycotting the polls. “Our repeated requests to keep a booth closer to the village were ignored. So, we decided to boycott the polls,” 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 the DM and SP succeeded in convincing them cast their votes. DM Devendra Kumar Pandey said the villagers have genuine concern about sanctioned development 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 had been left out of any government schemes, so that they can access the rightful aid,” he said.
Even in Bihar’s Samastipur Lok Sabha seat, people boycotted voting in booth numbers 215, 216, 214, 211, 210, 212, 213 due to the closure of Rameshwar Jute Mill over the last two years.
However, if this act of defiance from voters amid the fervour of ‘democratic festival’ will have any impact on the results remains to be seen when actual numbers are out on May 23. Will it have any effect on the representatives who have failed their people? One can only hope.
-With inputs from Rangoli Agrawal, Saurabh Sharma and Manish Chandra Mishra
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