National

Voters In Bastar Allege CRPF High-handedness, Say Voters Turned Away From Polling Booths

About 300-400 voters in Tikampal gram sabha of Dantewada district in Bastar could not cast their votes in the first phase of assembly elections in Chhattisgarh. Here's why.

Advertisement

Polling takes place at a polling booth in South Bastar under strict watch of CRPF personnel
info_icon

On the morning of November 7, when Chhattisgarh’s Bastar went to polls, 27-year-old Bheema Tati took a shower, wore a crisp shirt he had left out the night before and left his home in Patelpara  village in Tikanpal gramsabha. By 12 pm, after an hour of walking, he reached the polling booth. Tati had been enthusiastic to vote. But when he reached the booth, located inside a newly constructed primary school, he found a long queue of villagers standing inside and outside the barricaded gate of the school, guarded by armed CRPF. While the ones inside were in line to vote, the ones outside were not being allowed to enter. The crowd seemed confused and the personnel were barking orders. Not wanting to join the crowd, Tati started to walk away, thinking he would come back a little later when the crowd cleared. A CRPF personnel at that point approached him and asked him where he was going. “I told him that since it’s very crowded right now, I will come back later. He started to force me to join the queue,” Tati recalled. He refused to go to the booth with him, stating that voting was his personal right and no one can force anyone to vote. After that, Tati claims that the CRPF jawan started abusing him. “He said, ‘Should I show you my power?’ And then threatened to shoot me in the backside,” Tati said. 

Advertisement

Many of the villagers who had turned up to vote saw and overheard the altercation. A threat to shoot was enough to send many home and added to the confusion. Tati claims that about 300 people left the polling booth with him but later decided to choose democracy. “It’s our right to vote and we wanted to vote. So we decided to go back and get in line,” Tati said. They cast their vote at 3 p.m., eventually. Nevertheless, out of the approximately 1,900 voters of Tikanpal, about 300-400 villagers from Patelpara and surrounding villages were unable to vote in the first phase of the Chhattisgarh Assembly elections. 

 

Advertisement

info_icon
Bheema Tati, 27, has written to the district collector demanding action against the CRPF personnel

Some left because they were scared of the CRPF’s attitude and the altercation with Tati. Yet others were unable to cast their vote because they did not have the right ID proof. Tikanpal sarpanch Devi Singh Tati told Outlook that the villagers were not informed that an Aadhar card, ration card, or voter ID card was mandatory for voting. “A week ahead of elections, we were all given a ‘parchi’ (BLO form) by the Booth Level Officer and on election day, many villagers turned up to the booth carrying just that parchi. They were not allowed to vote,” he stated. 

He adds that not all polling booths had the same rules. “We found that in several other booths, people with just the parchi were allowed to vote. Many villagers come on foot from far-off locations to vote and they get very disheartened when they can’t,” Devi Singh added.

Basu Bhaskar of Dongripara village in Tikampal was also unable to vote, despite reaching the polling booth at 7 a.m. “I waited for a long time in the queue but could not get in so I returned home after two hours,” he said. He added that the behaviour of the CRPF was also rude. “They were admonishing villagers, barking orders and using ill words”, he attests. Devi Singh, the village headman adds that the force should not behave roughly with villagers who already feel reticent and scared about voting in these areas. “Their role is to reassure the voters, not scare them,” he said. 

Advertisement

Poll politics: Congress cries foul

The matter has nevertheless taken a political turn.

Bheema Tati and the rest of the villagers of Tikanpal are in no mood to let the incident go. The ‘sarpanch’ and other village elders along with Tati have written a letter to the district collector, complaining about the incident and demanding an enquiry into the matter. The letter seems to have hit home. On November 8, Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel himself tweeted the letter which had been going viral on social media networks and alleged that the Bhartiya Janta Party was using the CRPF (which is under the Centre’s control) to hurt Congress’ vote share. 

Advertisement

“This is the real character of the BJP government at the Centre. If they were not able to stand in front of Congress in the elections, then CRPF jawans were put forward. This is not the only complaint of stopping voters. Such complaints have been received from many places in Bastarm” he tweeted, adding, “But when the public is together, BJP can put forward whomever it wants. Only we will win”. 

The tweet is being read by many as an admission by the Congress of losing votes to the BJP this time in Bastar where the grand old party is in power across all 12 assembly constituencies at present. The BJP has meticulously worked on its Bastar strategy for the past five years in hopes of wresting power from Congress in the area. Similar allegations of election fraud were made by Congress’ sitting Konta MLA and cabinet minister Kawasi Lakhma in Sukma where he is facing off with influential Communist Party of India (CPI) leader Manish Kunjam contesting as an independent. On the day of polling, Lakhma alleged that CPI cadres fought with his agent and that fake votes were given against Congress in the Kasarguda polling. He asked the polling officer at the booth to stop the voting and called for re-polling.

Advertisement

Meanwhile, the villagers of Tikanpal have remained tense and disheartened and want the matter to be sorted soon. Some are fearing retribution from the “force” for filing a complaint. While the collector has been unavailable for comment, the Inspector General of Police (IG) in Bastar, P Sundarraj said that the matter will be investigated if there is enough evidence to support the claim. While stating that no complaint has been directly made to him, the IG assured that proper action will be taken if the complaint has merit. 

 

info_icon
The polling booth at Tikanpal gram sabha, a day after polls

“There were over 2,900 polling booths in Bastar division this time with 650 designated as sensitive. All Elections Commission guidelines and security protocols were followed in every booth. Deployed security personnel are given specific briefings. Such an incident should not happen and if it did, it will be investigated,” he said.

Advertisement

This year, Bastar where large tracts of land remain in Naxal belts, has seen a ten percent increase in voting with over 70 percent voter turnout. While the increase in voters in some Bastar regions is an indicator of the success of the Election Commission, security forces as well as the state government in controlling the Naxal threat, incidents like the one in Tikanpal stick out like a sore thumb. Between the Naxals and the “force”, it is the common man’s democratic rights that usually suffer. 

(Raunak Shivhare is an independent journalist from Bastar)

Advertisement

Advertisement

Advertisement

Advertisement

Advertisement

Advertisement