Voters in this sanctuary area in Odisha have been caught in a violent conflict between security forces and Left-wing extremists

In Sunabeda, they are caught in the crossfire. On one side are the security forces and on the other, the Maoists. Caught in between, voters in the remote villages of the Sunabeda Wildlife Sanctuary area in the Nuapada Assembly constituency are apprehensive about exercising their franchise in the April 10 elections.

The Nuapada district administration finds the conduct of the Assembly and Lok Sabha polls here challenging, with the difficult terrain along the Chhattisgarh border posing one hurdle more.

The Communist Party of India (Maoist) has not called for an election boycott in the area. But the people fear for their lives — many are identified as supporters of either the security forces or the rebels.

“Not long ago, forest officials used to harass people. Later, Maoists and security forces replaced those officials. We have been living under suppression for years. We do not have much expectation from this election,” Biju Jhakar of Sanbeheli village says.

In January, the people of Sunabeda, Gatibeda, Koked and Janpani inside the sanctuary, aided by security forces, dared the Maoists to enter their villages, vowing to confront them with bows and arrows. But in the Soseng gram panchayat limits, certain sections have been branded as rebel sympathisers and security forces closely monitor their movements. As the elections near, these villagers find themselves in a tricky situation.

Prior to the announcement of the elections, the Nuapada divisional committee of the CPI(Maoists) placed seven persons from the sanctuary area on its hit list. The Maoists warned officials against laying roads inside the sanctuary under the Integrated Action Plan scheme. The construction of roads could become a flashpoint, with work on six road projects and culverts going on in the forests.

“Taking up normal road projects has nothing to do with the election. The projects will go on in spite of the election process,” Superintendent of Police, Nuapada, Umashankar Das says.

The rebels have not objected to schemes for drinking water supply and provision of education. The district administration has identified 65 polling booths in the area as very sensitive on account of the Maoist threat. Polling officials will have to walk three to 10 km to reach 35 booths.

Voters from the Paharia community in the hill-top Khadanga village will have to spend a whole day travelling to their booth and back.

Patadhara in the Bhainsadani gram panchayat limits of Boden block has been identified as the most difficult booth. The polling party will have to trek 15 km over mountainous terrain to reach the area, just a few kilometres from Chhattisgarh.

Though security forces will accompany the officials, there is always the threat of ambush.

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