Dayana Kinchai does not know who Naveen Patnaik is, nor has she ever heard of Narendra Modi or Rahul Gandhi. Chitrakonda is a country to her and she does not know of any land beyond.
She has that amused astonishment writ all over her face at the sight of the flurry of colourfully decorated campaign vehicles ambling past with loud music and parties’ slogans blaring out. For, this is the first experience of real time electioneering for the over 70-year-old woman of the recently christened ‘Swabhiman Anchala’, and not very far from the culvert near Jantapai village where the then Collector of Malkangiri Vineel Krishna was abducted by Maoists in February 2011.
The whole Swabhiman Anchala, the erstwhile Bicchinanchala (cut-off) areas of Chitrakonda reservoir, is in fact revelling in the change, emerging from the shadow of decades-long exclusion from the mainstream and breaking the shackles of fear of Maoists.
After nearly half a century, people of the region for the first time are getting up close to the festival of democracy and are as enthusiastic in participation. The high-decibel campaigning by different parties, the processions by supporters, people boldly flaunting their political leanings on their motorcycles and vehicles - all stand testimony to the transformation. Janardan Galeri, in his thirties from Jantapai village, attributes it to two reasons - Gurupriya bridge and enhanced security. “The Gurupriya bridge, inaugurated by Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik in July last year, has opened the world to the cut-off areas, bringing us out of darkness to light. We are for the first time in our lives getting to know what actual development and Government means”, he says.
There were around 151 villages under nine panchayats with a population of 30,000 stranded in the middle of the Chitrakonda reservoir. The Gurupriya bridge has brought four panchayats, primarily Badapada and Papermetla, out of the isolation and connected them to mainland.
The transformation is stark. Roads are being laid and penetrating deep. Public transport has reached Jantapai. A Bus Stop sign proudly hangs from the main square and the bus does the rounds twice a day. Six bore wells have been dug in the last two months for providing drinking water to the village.
“In the last month, more than 17 km of roads have been laid extending connectivity to more villages. The bridge on river Ruma will be completed within a month that will ensure unhindered connectivity within the two panchayats of Badapadar and Papermetla,” says local youth-turned-entrepreneur and reformed Maoist supporter Tapan Saha, who is executing the works.
A health centre has come up at Janbai to ensure primary health care and referral services to the ailing
population. The area is witnessing business growth with a small market comprising shops of clothes, consumer articles and refreshments opening. Household latrines are also being constructed across the villages while education facilities, angwanwadi centres, etc are undergoing upgradation.
A kilometre away from the bridge at Mutamba village, Pramila Burundi (30) works on her sewing machine stitching blouses and sarees. She had been working under a tailor master at Chitrakonda in the mainland before coming back to her village last year and starting her own small unit here.
“The bridge has come as a boon for all of us. I earn `5000-`6000 per month now and am getting orders from the mainland too,” she says.
One of the most visible changes is the diminishing influence of Maoists on the people of the region as they begin to enjoy the fruits of development. Maoists had established a rule of the gun in the cut-off area taking advantage of its complete isolation. But the situation has changed after Gurupriya bridge and deployment of BSF units in the area. A full-fledged BSF camp has been set up at Jantapai and become a sheer force behind fast-paced development in the region.
“Enhanced security has given people the courage to participate in the process of development. They are also excited about the coming elections,” says a local political worker Ananda Kirisani.
The visible development touching lives and livelihood of the people has given an edge to the ruling BJD in this area. But the people are also vocal about their major issues of irrigation, work opportunities, non-provisioning of ST certificates to genuine people and lack of services.
“Despite surrounded by water, there is none available for farming. Barring the three months of rains, the rest nine months are dry and barren. These months even brought the population in the interiors to hunger situation. Irrigation should be a priority otherwise with connectivity, we will see another problem of distress migration,” said Sada Galeri of Jantapai.
Meanwhile, preparations are on in full swing for free and fair elections in the area which has in the past always been held under the shadow of the gun. The BSF is playing a major part.
“We are seeing tremendous positive sentiments about polls among the people. The BSF is motivating people to come out and vote without any fear. The presence of Maoists in the are has come down to a nought. The Swabhiman Anchala will witness its best polls in all times,” asserted Commandant AK Arya.