Clueless about symbols, people seek guidance

Clueless about symbols, people seek guidance

Clueless about symbols, people seek guidance

At Baghmundi in Purulia, far away from the state capital Kolkata, popularity is a foregone conclusion.

 A chat with anyone in the area and other parts of the western-most district, one of the most impoverished parts of Bengal, even the name of Mamata Banerjee does not evoke a sense of awe, or even recognition.

For local residents, who are set to cast their votes on April 4 and 11, electoral symbols mean nothing. Their votes will go to the one local community leaders will suggest. “We don’t know which symbol stands for which party. Our village headman will advise us on whom to vote,” admitted Jyotilal Hansda, a land tiller hailing from the Santhal community. He was speaking for his wife, Hela, and his son, Karmu, who will be voting for the first time this year.  Jyotilal and his family’s immediate concerns are four square meals. Their source of subsistence is a kind of gruel, made of steamed rice kept overnight in a bowl of water.

The accompaniment is often one burnt tomato mashed in with chillies, both vegetables grown in the family’s less than half an acre plot. As Jyotilal talked to Deccan Herald on a searing hot, summer afternoon, slurping in his share of the gruel from a plastic bowl, he said that things have always been like this for them.

 The village headmen instructed which symbol to cast their vote for and they pressed the button next to the suggested symbol, be it the twin flowers and a blade of grass, representing Trinamool Congress, the hammer-sickle-star of the Left or the Congress’s upright palm. Jyotilal, however, finds the reigning government acceptable ever since Mamata started providing rice at Rs 2 a kg. Proper roads snaking through the village, an electricity connection, which keeps the two LED lamps, also a part of the government’s largesse, and a deep tube-well that mostly provides clean water, have made him believe that “this government is good”. “Now we’ve the things we need the most. The field provides us with basic vegetables and the nearby ration shop supplies us a monthly quota of 15 Kg rice at Rs 2,” he said. Waving her arms around the singe-storey house, with two rooms, a kitchen and a bathroom, Hela pointed at the walls and talked of how the house with public funds have helped her family survive the extreme temperatures of Purulia, where on summer days the mercury often touches 47 degrees Celsius and in winters it dips down to 8 or 9 degrees Celsius.

 Even though the house has been built under Indira Awas Yojana, a Central government scheme, she and Jyotilal believe the present government is to be thanked.Baleshwar Majhi, a landless worker mostly dependent on 100 days’ work under MGNREGA, however, does not seem happy with Mamata.

Although not sure who Mamata is, he does not believe she has done much for people like him. “There’s hardly any work available. We wish the government arranged for more work,” he said. Like most men from his community, he finds solace in drinking undistilled country liquor, made by fermenting day-old rice in water. Political developments mean nothing for him and he does not know of the changes around, he admitted.

“I have never even seen this man in my life,” he said, pointing at a poster of Nepal Mahato, the sitting Congress MLA, who is fighting to retain his seat. When posed the question to him, he asked, “Who should I vote for?” The village headman, who did not want to be named, admitted that most voters in the area are like Jyotilal and Baleshwar. Affiliated to the Congress, he hopes the villagers will cast for the symbol of his choice and help his candidate regain the seat.
DH News Service