On Voting Day, Palghar tribals say the Lok Sabha bypoll is a fight for existence by the voiceless, and hope their votes bring change
Amid allegations of EVM malfunctions and the political slugfest that followed on Monday, tribals in Palghar said they cast their votes in the bye-election to the Lok Sabha seat in the hope to keep their ancestral land from being acquired for the bullet train project. Most said they didn’t believe their situation would change.
No to bullet train
Sevanti Shingde from Aamgaon Patilpada said tribals are against the Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train. “The government had said they will make provisions for the displaced people within six months, but that hasn’t happened.” Vanita Wanga, who was accompanying her, added, “What’s the big deal? We can jpress any button.”
Despite the negativity in the air, the polling booth in Aamgaon Patilpada Zilla Parishad School had a respectable number of voters waiting to exercise their franchise. According to Dassu Redia, a polling agent, the turnout here is comparatively high as votes are being cast for change. Mr. Redia, who says he participated in the Farmers Long March in Dahanu last month to protest the bullet train project, added, “People in this region will be badly affected by the project. They’ll be uprooted from their land, which is why they voting in large numbers to change the situation.”
“We want good water to drink, better job opportunities for our youth and a development plan which makes our life better, but obviously not the bullet train. This doesn’t have any connection to us,” Damu Sariya Arde, 60, of Aamgaon Patilpada said.
Most polling booths beyond Talasari towards Zhari had short queues, while some of them were totally deserted. With little to do, polling officers were seen outside the booths for some cool air as the hot summer day progressed. The polling officer in Kavada Thakarpada said voters had showed up in the first three hours of polling, but their numbers began dwindling later.
In tribal-dominated Talasari taluka, located on the Maharashtra-Gujarat border, locals say they are facing water scarcity, poor crops, unemployment and lack of medical access for decades.
The serpentine hilly road from Aamgaon Patilpada Zilla Parishad School leads to a village inhabited by the Katkari Samaj, who have already been notified about land acquisition and proposed evacuation. Here, close to 100 households are desperate to save their homes.
Mahesh and Sailesh Lokhande, brothers and daily wage labourers, had all day to themselves after casting their vote as it was too late to go to work. “We don’t care about the wages we have lost today, but we don’t want to lose our homes to the project, so we voted against it,” they said.
A strident voice from among the voters at the booth, belonging to 32-year-old Naina Raju Pawar, said, “This is our land, we were born here and we won’t leave. We don’t want the bullet train; let the rich fly from Mumbai to Ahmedabad.”
‘Change living standards’
A woman from Dhanivari village in Dahanu said, “I’m going to vote for this party because I’ve voted for them thrice earlier. I don’t think they’ll mae a difference to our standard of living. There is a huge shortage of drinking water in our village. The sarpanch had promised to install a tank three years ago, but nothing has been done. But votes have to be cast.”
Vanita Urade from Kavada Thakarpada in Talasari tehsil added, “Some parties hold meetings here a few times a year. The only reason we vote is because if we don’t, they shout at us.”
She said BJP and CPM were among the parties that held such meetings, adding that voting or not voting did not really make a difference.
Highlighting issues faced by the people of Kavada Thakarpada, former sarpanch Shankar Umbersada said, “The Kurje dam is in our vicinity, but all the water is going to Gujarat, despite the water shortage here.”
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