On the margin
Sirajuddin Ahmed does not believe in votes. Last time he stood in a queue to vote was on February 14, 1983. Four days after that Ahmed's parents and two of his daughters were killed and his wife's hands were chopped off because they went out to vote. Ahmed speaks very slowly. His words almost come out in slow motion. He is unsure about his age. "I think 65 or 70", he says. "I will show you the place where they killed everyone because they went out to vote against the boycott call given by the All Assam Students' Union. They came at 8 am and it went on till 4 pm."
I was with Sirajuddin at the killing fields of Nellie. A quiet village in Assam that shot into unwanted prominence after 3,000 men, women and children were killed by a rampaging mob. Muslims in Nellie were killed because they went out to vote in the state elections of 1983, defying a boycott call during the Assam Agitation. Twenty-six years and one more election later, Nellie stays trapped in time. There is hardly any sense of any election sweetness in Nellie. It's cold. So cold that you start feeling uneasy after the survivors of the 1983 morning murders start taking off their clothes in a clinical manner, to show you their wounds. They rarely speak. This election, like always, the unknown faces of Nellie came out to vote en masse in the Lok Sabha elections.
This has been one of the most peaceful elections in Assam and also northeastern India.
Something that's welcome yet strange given the nagging tag of violence and militancy attached to the northeastern states. The Hill districts of Assam, where I was travelling before the polls was also deceptively quiet during the votes. At night this area presents a perfect picture of darkness and despair. Miles and miles of sugarcane fields, dark villages with houses open to the highways, bad roads, bad bridges and the constant fear of being ambushed by militants -- Karbi Anglong and North Cachar injects depression into every soul. It is difficult to realise the idea of election in these parts of India. Some political flags, some wall posters. Before elections, every night the Dimasa militants were targeting trains, killing people. The Karbi militants were abducting people, killing them. Strangely, on the day of the vote, the turnout was a near 60 per cent in these areas, the violence magically vanished. "They've been bought off," said our stringer. Maybe, he was right. After the polls, the violence and attacks on trains have begun yet again.
This election Assam recorded a turnout of 62 per cent. In cities like Guwahati there were a lot of angry voters. They are angry over the blasts that have hit the city in regular intervals. Voters are saying that the level of depth and engagement with the Assam blasts was much less compared to that with the blasts in Mumbai. Everyone is now waiting for the results to come out quick and fast. Would be interesting to watch how the anger of voters translates into results.
More about Arijit SenArijit Sen reports from Northeast India. He was at NDTV before joining CNN-IBN in 2005. Arijit began journalism in December 1999 with The Edit page of The Pioneer in New Delhi. A 2010/11 Gerda Henkel Fellow at Oxford University, Arijit received the News Television Award in 2010. He was given the Ramnath Goenka excellence in journalism award twice, in 2008-09 and 2009-10, for his reporting from Northeast India. Arijit did his Masters in Economics from Calcutta University.
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