Caught in the violent conflict between security forces and left wing extremists, many voters in remote villages of Sunabeda Sanctuary area in Odisha’s Nuapada Assembly segment are apprehensive of their participation in the upcoming elections. In fact, Sunabeda Sanctuary, a Maoist warzone bordering Chhattisgarh, poses a challenge to the district administration to hold elections because of its sheer remoteness and difficult terrain. The region is going to poll on April 10. Although CPI (Maoist) is yet to call for poll boycott, villagers, many of whom have already been identified as supporters of security forces and rebels, fear for their lives. With the backing from security forces, residents of Sunabeda, Gatibeda, Koked and Janpani villages inside the sanctuary had dared naxalites to enter their villages and vowed to confront them with bows and arrows in January this year. On the contrary, some villagers under Soseng gram panchayat in the sanctuary have been branded as rebel sympathisers. Security forces closely monitor their movements. As the elections near, these villagers are finding them in tricky situation.

In fact, prior to announcement of elections, Nuapada Divisional Committee placed names of seven persons of Sunabeda sanctuary in their hit-list. The CPI (Maoist) division had also warned Nuapada administration not to lay any road inside the sanctuary under Integrated Action Plan scheme. The construction of roads could become a flash point for Left wing extremists to perpetrate violence. At present six road projects and construction of culverts are going oninside the forest area.

When contacted Nuapada SP Umashankar Das said, “taking up normal road projects is nothing to do with elections. The projects will go on in spite of the election process.” The rebels, however, allowed other welfare schemes pertaining to drinking water and education.

Difficult terrain

Nuapada district administration has identified 65 polling booths which are very sensitive on account of threat from naxalites in Sundabeda area. In case of 35 booths, polling parties will have to walk a distance between 3 km. and 10 km. In fact, on the day of poll, voters may walk down 10 km. to reach polling booths. Paharia community, which lives in Khadanga village on top of mountain, will have to spend whole day on making to and fro journey to exercise their franchise.

Patadhara village under Bhainsadani gram panchayat under Boden block has been identified as the most difficult polling station in the region. The polling party will have to trek 15 km.-long mountainous terrain to reach Patadhara, from where Chhattisgarh is a few kilometre distance. “Selection of polling party for Patadhara will not be made through process of randomisation. We will select young government employees and convince them to set up polling station at Patadhara,” said Sarat Kumar Srichandan, Nuapada District Electoral Officer.

Although polling parties will be flanked by security forces, there will always be threat of ambush by naxalites. “If reports on growing confrontation between security forces and rebels appearing in newspapers are to be believed, the upcoming Assembly and general elections might witness incidences of violence. It will impact the voters as far as their participation in elections is concerned,” said Ajit Panda, Khariar-based journalist and activist. By the last election (2009), Sunabeda, spread over 600 sq km, had not seen any violence by Left wing extremist. However, during past five years, security personnel, government employees, elected representatives and innocent villagers have been killed inside the forest. Naxalites from Chhattisgarh, who used to cross over border to take shelter in dense forests of Sunabeda, have been trying to protect their area dominance.