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What made stressed voters 'celebrate' 100% voting in MP village Gajraha?

By Dr Mansee Bal Bhargava* 

We are in the middle of the election now with 4th phase of voting on May 13th at 96 constituencies of 10 states. I am keen to share an experience of celebrating 100% voting for the first time in life in the past 30 years of my voting. In my immediate acquaintances, we are five people out of which only I exercised my voting and the rest four could/did not vote.
Firstly, a senior citizen who could not cast her vote as she was in another city and she needed someone to accompany her to the other city which was not possible as the accompanied person (which is me) would have lost voting opportunity since the voting date was same.
Secondly, a domestic help could not cast her vote as her vote is registered in a village in Udaipur and she is a migrant to Ahmedabad. So, she did not feel worth travelling back to village with child only to vote.
Thirdly, a cleaning lady of the society, who comes to us for collection every day, did not feel like going for voting in this scorching sun and leaving her little daughter alone at home.
Finally, a man who has never voted, since in his early years he felt it is a waste of time; then over the years because it doesn’t matter whoever comes to power as all are corrupt; then further over the years an attitude grew that it doesn’t matter whoever comes to power as it doesn’t affect his life and livelihood; and now this time the arrogance that his party doesn’t need his vote as anyway it will get back to power whether he votes or not.
This sorry state of voting must be common across the country. In this situation, the experience of celebrating 100% voting at the tiny village of Ganjraha was elating. Since, it reinstated my outlook and faith on the values of democracy, by the people, of the people, for the people.


Gajraha (as people generally pronounce it) is situated 35 kilometers away from the Tehsil alias sub-district headquarter Manpur (tehsildar office) and 60 kilometers away from the District headquarter Umaria in the state of Madhya Pradesh. Bakeli is the Gram Panchayat of Gajraha village.
Importantly, Gajraha is located in the buffer forest of the famous Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve. Bandhavgarh National Park is spread over the Vindhya hills in Madhya Pradesh. The national park consists of a core area of 105 square kilometers and a buffer area of approximately 400 square kilometers.
With the highest density of Royal Bengal Tigers, a plethora of magnificent flora and fauna -- Bandhavgarh is the most-visited protected wildlife reserve in the country. In addition, however, the forest is suffering from extensive deforestation and invasion of a shrub weed namely, Lantana Camara L (called Raimuniya in Hindi).
The total geographical area of the Gajraha village is 874.5 hectares (2,200) acres. 75% of the village area is under the forest, and rest is farmlands and ravines. A compact village housing around 447 people, out of which male population is 234 and female population is 213. 
There are about 105 houses in Gajraha located in the distant bank of the Tributary Hulphul. The literacy rate of the village is 55.70% out of which 61.11% males and 49.77% females are literate.
The primary occupation of the villagers diversifies from the forest produce especially from Mahua and Tendu. Though the extensive deforestation leading to soil degradation and reduced forest produce besides the labor-intensive forest have put villagers into stress for livelihood and living. 
Most villagers do farming; however, water crisis in the area is a challenge and thus villagers are taking up alternate works and migrating to cities and towns nearby.

Voting at Gajraha

The Gajraha Voting Centre is numbered 95 and had 301 registered voters (145 women, 156 men). Gajraha could attain 100% voting due to persistent efforts of some individuals and institutions. The Ex- Collector of Umaria, Budhesh Kumar Vaidya (now Collector, Vidisha) has an instrumental role in turning the citizens into active voters. 
He had strategically reached out to most villages of the district for voting awareness and the value of democracy. He had personally visited Gajraha, which made a difference in the people’s understanding of their role in the democratic process.
The Booth Level Officer (BLO), Deep Narayan Gautam, was the most crucial person in voting awareness. He had met each and every family to make them aware of the need for voting and then push them to the polling booth on the voting day.
A non-government organization namely, Prakruti Prerna Foundation (PPF), through its founder Srinivas Rachakonda also has indirectly influenced the villagers to understand their needs and prepare them to ask for it from the government. Since, PPF is engaging many villagers in its efforts toward afforestation, deweeding of lantana, organic farming, etc.

Celebrating the 100% voting

It was during the grand function, ‘Matdata Aabhar Mahotsav’, on 4th May to celebrate the 100% voting that I learned about the people and the place. It was organized like a festival at the local primary school of Gajraha. The festival was hosted by the Collector Office and convened through the BLO.
Decorations, mikes, music, water, snacks, and a lot of movement marked the day. People from all the surrounding villages started coming to the event from noon with the anticipation that the Collector might come anytime. The buzz all around the place was to handover their request to the Collector about the needs and grievances of the people.
We, from WforW Foundation, were visiting Gajraha for piloting fieldwork for our research (in collaboration with PPF) on, ‘The Conservation of Landscape and Waterscape towards Climate Resilient Social-Ecological Systems’.
While we were forming strategies to meet the villagers for our perception survey and focus group discussions to find out their outlooks toward deforestation and forest restoration through livelihood generation; it was overwhelming to find hundreds of villagers from the district to participate in the voting celebration. It helped us set the tone of our research on that day.
The Collector and other dignitaries finally arrived at 4.00pm and took to the stage for the event to commence. The event was dotted with several speeches by the dignitaries and eminent villagers. There was also a number of dance, song, and poem by the children of various schools, all highlighting the importance of voting, election, democracy and citizenry. Girls were seen highly active in the cultural programs. 
Few boys also recited poems, for example, a slogan for youth has struck my heart, ‘Youth Chala Booth, Karne Loktantra Ko Majboot’. Anmol Gautam of Class V recited this beautiful poem on voting and its importance which, in principle, sums up the essence of voting and this festival,
"Nation first, voting must,
If you don’t vote, life is waste.
Crossed eighteen years, voting is your right,
Choose the best and show your might.
We demand rights and seek progress,
We want the government corruption-less,
We think of change in every process,
But if we don’t vote, we are helpless.
Vote is the foundation of Democracy,
Vote can change the Public Policy,
Vote can help you make a Prophecy,
Vote can be boost for Nation’s Odyssey."

The present Collector of Umaria, Dharnendra Kumar Jain, in his speech thanked the voters for casting their votes and the villagers for participating in the voting celebration. Every voter was felicitated with names and gifts starting with senior citizens, youth and women.
It was interesting to learn that 45 migrant workers also returned to the village to cast their vote. Some of them were present in the festival. The woman seated on stage was Sarpanch Mahodaya Vibha Singh, who was also invited to deliver her speech. 
It was then I realized that the participants seated around me weren’t aware that she was the Sarpanch and were referring to her husband as the Sarpanch. I hope this changes over time and women participate more actively in the social-ecological matters of the place beyond their personal matters. I also hope their efforts get due acknowledgement. As there were almost equal number of men and women participating in the festival.
It was overwhelming to see that almost everyone was carrying a wish or list application paper to draw attention of the collector to their needs and problems. It was like seeking their right, more so now that they have performed their duties (of voting).


This was the first time in 30 years of my voting that I experienced a voting festival. It is also the first time I learned about the 100% voting where the average voting percentage is poor/half in the country. I believe this was possible because of the efforts of the few and important, because people are seeking their demands to be met as they live under a lot of distress due to lack of facilities and loss of forest and livelihoods.
It may be also because engineering a homogenous community to perform something is comparatively a doable (though difficult) task for the system. It may have its own challenge of influencing the voters, but for now it is important to highlight that every citizen exercised their voting rights.
I returned to Ahmedabad with this lifetime experience and a wish that voting is celebrated in every booth level in urban settings also. I hope that awareness on voting is made more rigor at booth level so that people like my acquaintances are also inclined to cast their votes.
It is only through increased voting we can talk about the rights and duties of citizens and the government. It is then only possible to attain a democracy by the people, of the people, for the people.
*Entrepreneur, researcher, educator, speaker, mentor, keen political observer, represents Environmental Design Consultants Ahmedabad and W.for.W Foundation,,



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