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Rediff.com  » Election » Vote fright lurks in riot-torn Kandhamal

Vote fright lurks in riot-torn Kandhamal

April 10, 2009 11:55 IST

The hilly Kandhamal Lok Sabha constituency, which was unheard of during previous elections, has come to the fore this time in the backdrop of anti-Christian riots that hit headlines even abroad.

The riots, triggered by the murder of Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati, who was active in the district for several decades, on August 23 last year, led to at least 43 killings besides attack on churches and arson at villages.

This also set off political turbulence in the state with the ruling Biju Janata Dal snapping its electoral alliance with the BJP dubbing it as communal.

With Kandhamal virtually divided on religious lines, Christian leaders are apprehensive that elections can trigger fresh violence in the area.

"I do not think the election will have any meaning when thousands of people are still in relief camps and many are migrating to other places," Archbishop of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar diocese Raphael Cheenath said.

Cheenath has already urged the Election Commission and authorities not to hold the polls in the district at present.

Krishna Kumar, Kandhamal district magistrate, who is also the returning officer, however, claimed that all arrangements have been made for holding a free and fair election in the district.

"We have made arrangements to help people in relief camps to vote without any fear," Kumar said.

Video recording of activities of certain candidates is also being done by neutral observers, Kumar said. He also pointed out that election to two urban civic bodies were held peacefully.

Nearly 4,000 security personnel, including 2,000 central paramilitary force, have been deployed in sensitive locations of the district, he said.

Though seven months have passed since violence erupted in this heavily-forested district, the scars of the carnage are still evident. There are nearly 3,000 people, belonging to the minority community, still living in seven relief camps and an equal number migrating to other places.

"I have voted in all elections over the last 40 years. But this time round, things are completely different as parties have put peace in their marketing basket instead of promising cheap rice or job cards," Prahallad Kanhar, a primary school teacher in Phulbani town, said.

While the administration is confident of holding free and fair elections, fear looms large in several relief camps. People panic at the suggestion of going out to cast votes.

"We are unable to return to our village because of the fear of attack from the rival community," a woman living at a relief camp at K Nuagaon, said.

"The officers have assured us full police protection while going to the polling booths. But, we fear escalation of tension if a candidate having Sangh Parivar links is defeated," said Malasini Nayak living in the Mandakia relief camp in Raikia block.

Similar feelings were echoed by Mohini Nayak, who returned home a fortnight ago after five months.

"I took shelter at the Vijay High School relief camp with my sons, daughter and husband. Later, I left for Raipur after the the camp was closed down. They have already destroyed my house. I feel they can again create trouble if I vote," Mohini said confiding that many Christians would not.

Rakesh Digal, a paster at Raikia, said, "We are worried over safety of our people. God knows what will happen on election day and afterwards".

Sources said many religious leaders have fled Kandhamal after violence broke as priests and nuns were mostly targeted.

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