The village in Darjeeling is ‘peaceful’.
Praloy Kumar Mondal, a policeman guarding the polling station at Bengaijote Primary School, did not want to be photographed as two red flags with a hammer and sickle fluttered in the background, less than 10 metres from the polling booth. Mr. Mondal said that despite much persuasion by polling agents and the police, local people refused to remove these two flags in front of the seven red columns next to the school located amid lush paddies.
The columns hold the busts of Lenin, Mao Tse Tung CPI(ML) founder Charu Majumdar and those killed on May 25, 1967. They serve as a reminder that this nondescript village, which falls under West Bengal’s Darjeeling district and Lok Sabha constituency, is the birthplace of Naxalism in the country.
There are 906 voters registered at this polling booth and till the polling came to an end on Thursday evening, as many as 827 (more than 90%) had exercised their franchise. Bapi Dhar, the Block Development Officer of Naxalbari, said that polling in the entire block was about 78%.
One of the voters, Ashwini Barman, now in his 60s, said he had faint memories of the Naxal movement but maintained that the area hardly has seen any disturbance and remains very peaceful. “This area is very peaceful. You can see the agents of all parties, the CPI(M), the Trinamool, the BJP, sitting side by side,” he said.
Locals who came to vote at the Bengaijote Primary Sschool had different names for the memorial. To some it was Naxal Mandir (Naxal temple), a group of elderly women Anita Barman and Kalpana Barman thought said that the memorial was built by Indira Gandhi. However, the memorial was actually raised by a faction of the CPI-ML, local activists said. For two first-time voters, Sujit Barman and Kamal Kishore Barman, the people depicted in the busts were that of country’s freedom fighters. Both the young men said that their primary concern was jobs and that they had voted for a “national party”.
In the adjoining village of Hatighisa, 76-year-old Shanti Munda is one of the last surviving persons who took part in the peasant revolt of Naxalbari in 1967. She has contested the Assembly polls on CPI(ML) ticket in 1982 and 1987, and said she was not shy of voting.
“Boycotting polls serves no purpose,” said Ms. Munda, once an aide of Naxal leader Kanu Sanyal.
Despite the high polling percentage there are a few who swear by Charu Majumadar and refuse to vote.
Pawan Singh, sat outside his house on Thursday morning seeing people go to the polling booth. Though his house is less than 100 metres away from the polling station,the 85 year old refused to vote. “Why will I vote and whom will I vote? Nobody has followed the ideology of Charu Majumdar,” Mr Singh said. He is the son of Dhaneshwari Devi, one of 11 persons killed on May 25, 1967 when police opened fire on a farmers’ rally at Naxalbari not far from the memorial. One of columns of the memorial also had name of Dhaneshwari Devi engraved on it.
A number of two wheelers, bicycles and motorbikes have been parked next to the memorial by those who have come to cast their votes. Surprisingly, some of these vehicles have have saffron flags fluttering.
Basanta Oraon and Man Badhur Chettri drove a motorbike has not only a saffron flag but a flag with Lord Ram engraved on it. “The place may have a history of Naxal movement, there might be red flags around but the future here is saffron,” Mr. Oraon and the group of young men who came to vote with him said