Friday, May 01, 2009

Naxals could not stop them

2 May 2009, 0218 hrs IST, Prafulla Marpakwar, TNN

MUMBAI: Most Mumbaikars, who preferred to stay indoors on election day, need to take lessons from illiterate villagers in the Naxal-dominated
Gadchiroli district.

In the backdrop of the worst-ever terror attack on the metropolis, it was expected that a large number of Mumbaikars would exercise their franchise but unfortunately, the response was dismal, as less than 42% of the electorate participated. Significantly, Gadchiroli district, where the Naxalites had threatened to chop off fingers if a villager exercised his franchise, recorded 65% voting, the second highest in the state. The highest 67% was recorded in Bhandara-Gondia.

"We are surprised at the lowest-ever voting percentage in the metropolis. It appears that voters are losing faith in the political system. We will have to initiate stringent measures to restore the faith,'' said BJP leader Vinod Tawde.

Gadchiroli police chief Rajesh Pradhan said despite a constant threat from the Naxals, the district witnessed a huge turnout. "Despite the fact that we had taken all security measures, we were not expecting such a massive response from the voters as the Naxalites had threatened to either kill or chop off the fingers of those people who exercise their franchise,'' Pradhan told TOI.

Even before the EC declared the poll schedule, Pradhan had completed inspection of the district, particularly the Naxal hideouts. "All our operations were successful. We nabbed some prominent Naxal activists-two were killed in our operation, while two were caught alive,'' Pradhan said.

A week before the polling, the Naxalites had given a call for Gadchiroli bandh and poll boycott. Some Naxalites from Chhatisgarh and Andhra were in the process of entering Gadchiroli. "We sealed all borders of Gadchiroli so that no Naxalites from these states could reach our district,'' he said. Pradhan said his biggest success was that he was able to instil confidence among the villagers.

In Mumbai there was no response from the voters. "After 26/11, people had criticised the ruling party. So we were expecting that they will express their anger in the ballot box, but that did not happen,'' Tawde said.

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