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Odisha: Erstwhile Naxal Hotbed Of Malkangiri Ready To Script New Chapter This Lok Sabha Polls

09:57 AM May 11, 2024 IST | 8PM News Desk
odisha  erstwhile naxal hotbed of malkangiri ready to script new chapter this lok sabha polls
Odisha: Erstwhile Naxal hotbed of Malkangiri ready to script new chapter this Lok Sabha polls

Malkangiri (Odisha): Having moved on from the dark days when it used to be a hotbed of Left-Wing Extremism (LWE), the Swabhiman Anchal in the Chitrakonda block of Odisha's Malkangiri district will script a new chapter in the ongoing Lok Sabha elections, as the locals will get their fingers inked for the first time in many years.

In a clear sign of how things have changed on the ground in the erstwhile Naxal hotbed, the poll bandwagon has rolled into the block as opposed to previous years when voting arrangements were made in nearby BSF camps.

The palpable shift on the ground also testifies to the empowerment of locals and the state's efforts to restore normality in the region and reestablish the rule of law. Thirty new polling booths have been set up for the Lok Sabha and assembly elections in villages across nine grampanchayats in the Swabhiman Anchal, a far cry from the days when Naxals ran their writ in the region.

The elections further signify a major step forward, not just in terms of the restoration of normality in the region but also in giving a sense of security to locals and enabling them to elect their representatives democratically.

Ahead of the polling day, May 13, a wave of happiness is sweeping through the region with a sense of excitement and anticipation writ large on the faces of first-time voters. In what will be the first time in a decade, people in the Swabhiman region will exercise their franchise without fear.

Previously, the polling paraphernalia had to be airlifted on helicopters, with electronic voting machines (EVMs) delivered under tight security near BSF camps.

However, marking a major shift from earlier years, locals will queue up in numbers outside the booths in the Swabhiman village under tight security cover.

In 2019, at least 12 booths in the Swabhiman Anchal recorded zero polling after Naxals threatened to bring harm to voters who dared to defy their call for boycott.

In the previous general elections in 2014, Maoists captured a polling booth prompting the Election Commission (EC) to order repolling. However, no one turned up for the repoll.

Malkangiri SP Nitesh Wadhwani stated that the fear of Naxals in the region has waned with a significant improvement in the law and order situation. There have been no reported Naxal activity in the region over the last one and a half years, the SP said.

Expanding on the steps taken in collaboration with the police and the BSF to boost security in the region, including carrying out regular patrols and searches in areas vulnerable to attacks, to ensure free and fair polling.

"With the cooperation of locals, the region, which was a hotbed of Naxal activity in the previous years, is now incident-free. Since 2018, several development projects have been implemented in the region to boost public infrastructure, especially roads, and build schools, apart from steps to boost security. We can assure that 18-20 off-steam operations will be carried out a day before the elections here. While the Naxal threat hasn't entirely gone away, the security situation is getting better with every passing day," he said.

Meanwhile, Sachin Pawar, the Collector and the district magistrate of Malkangiri, also shared details of the arrangements to ensure free and fair polling in the erstwhile Naxal hotbed.

"For the first time in many years, the people of Malkangiri will vote in their own villages. As many as 30 Shakhi (all women) booths have been set up in the Malkangiri district and two PWD booths have also been put together. At the Shakhi booth, we have arranged for the women polling personnel to be clad in the attire associated with the Bonda tribe as they extend a hearty welcome to voters."

The Collector also urged the people to cast their votes early, preferably in the first half of the day, as the temperature is likely to shoot up thereafter.

"According to the IMD (India Meteorological Department) forecast, the maximum temperature could be in the region of 39°C on May 13. Hence, I would urge people to vote early, preferably in the first half of the day," the Collector said, adding, "To counter the prevailing heatwave, we have made special arrangements in every booth, including cold water and ORS (Oral Rehydration Solution). Surrounded by water bodies on three sides and rugged terrain on the other, the area is rendered virtually inaccessible. About 150 villages in the Chitrakonda area, including the Swabhiman Anchal, spanning approximately 373 sq km in the South Malkangiri district of Odisha, can only be reached by boat. This region was known formerly as the cut-off area."

The Lok Sabha and the assembly elections in Odisha are being held simultaneously across four phases--May 13 to June 1, with the counting of votes scheduled for June 4.
In 2019, Biju Janata Dal (BJD) won 112 out of 146 Assembly seats, while the BJP won 23 and the Congress won 9.

In the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the ruling BJD won 12 of the 21 seats while the BJP finished a close second at 8. The Congress bagged just a lone seat.

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