GUWAHATI: A polling team in Arunachal Pradesh gave its blood for India’s democratic elections – literally.
The team returned home on Monday night, exhausted – thirsty, hungry and sick, nearly a month since it was dropped in a village near the India-China border by a chopper in two sorties.
After the election duty was over, the team waited for 19 days in a village hoping to be air-lifted back to its base but the chopper never arrived as it could not fly due to inclement weather. When rescue was not in sight, the team decided to return on foot. Despite being attacked on the way by leeches and other blood-sucking insects, the team kept walking for three days to be eventually rescued by the police. The poll team had embarked on the return journey on foot on May 16.
The personnel were deputed for April 27 re-polling duty at Zara polling station in newly-created Kra Dadi district. Re-polling here was ordered following rigging on April 11 when Parliamentary, as well as state elections, were held simultaneously.
The team was air-dropped at Pipsorang on April 23. The personnel stayed the next day there and left for Zara polling station in the morning of April 25. They reached the polling station after around 10 hours of walk during which they had to trek three mountains. After the successful conduct of re-poll, they returned to Pipsorang on April 28 but only to get stranded.
All along, they got very little to eat as ration exhausted. They survived on rice and leafy vegetables. Pipsorang is a remote village with no shops. Salt here is a rarity, sold at Rs 250 a kg by some locals.
Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP), Tasi Darang, who led the team’s 28 security personnel, related to The New Indian Express a sordid tale of a dangerous adventure. Braving the challenges, the diehards finished the “mission” of delivering the EVMs 25 days later.
“As the road from Pipsorang to Zara is a hilly track, we started early on April 25. We had to scale three big mountains to reach the destination. We successfully conducted re-polling on April 27 and returned to Pipsorang the next day. The critical situation started after that,” Darang said.
He said they were waiting for the helicopter but incessant rains stood in the way. Pipsorang does not have any basic amenities. There are no roads and shops and money does not count here, he said.
“You won’t find any edibles there. As such, we had only simple boiled leafy vegetables with rice but without salt or pepper. Soon, our stocks ran out and the morale of security and polling personnel started deteriorating,” the police officer said.
He said when the team was thinking of using a certain route to return, it was admonished by senior officials due to security reasons.
“That was risky as we got messages that security threats are very high in that area. The supporters of a political party had laid ambush to snatch EVMs. The miscreants also damaged seven to eight hanging bridges to block our way,” Darrang said.
He said after waiting for more than 20 days at Pipsorang, the team decided to walk back to its base via Daporijo, a route seldom used by locals.
“We planned to walk the distance in three days. Soon after we had embarked on the journey, a constable surrendered and went back to Pipsorang. It was the toughest journey of my life. We scaled eight mountains and walked through deep forests even as it was raining. We cried in our hearts thinking if something happens, there will be none to help us. I thought the animals do not roam about in that area. Apart from the bad weather, leaches kept sucking our blood. Every time we opened our shoes, we found at least 20 big leeches sucking our blood. A fly insect, locally called Damdum, also sucked our blood. We quenched our thirst by drinking rain and stream water,” Darrang said.
He said when the team eventually reached Jikke village in Upper Subansiri district on May 18, it was rescued by the police and taken to Daporijo in the district in some cars. After necessary clearance, the personnel were escorted to Ziro in neighbouring Lower Subansiri district where the polled EVMS were deposited to the strong room. The team reached Koloriang in Kra Dadi district on Monday night. It was in Koloriang that they had boarded the chopper to go to Pipsorang.
“At least 10-12 members of the poll party have fallen sick. Most of them suffered from knee and joint problems. One constable was admitted to a hospital,” Darrang said.
“It was a tough task. We went to perform a national duty assigned by the government. I thank God that we could do what we were tasked,” he added.
Bengia Soping, the presiding officer, said he did not experience anything like this in the 14 years of his service.
“We went through agonies. When I returned home, my wife and our four children broke down in tears. I too cried. All along the journey and even while I was stranded at Pipsorang, I constantly prayed to God for my reunion with my family members,” he said.
Kra Dadi Superintendent of Police, Taru Gusar, said he was constantly in touch with the team stranded at Pipsorang through police wireless service.
“As it kept raining, we sent a message to the poll party to return on foot. The government had hired a chopper and also had a tie-up with the Army but a chopper could not be pressed into service to bring them back due to inclement weather,” he said.
He also said that the administration would decide on how the jawan stranded at Pipsorang could be brought back.