I had to ride pillion on a motorbike to reach Neta Naar from Jagdalpur. The young man, who gave me the ride (for a price, of course) gave his name only as "Shekhar". He appeared to be 23 years old, perhaps 24. This was what he did for a living — took people on his motorbike to wherever they wanted to go to in the jungle.
Neta Naar polling booth is deep inside the jungles of Bastar in Chhattisgarh; the nearest town, Jagdalpur, is 30 km away. It's the dry season here, now. When it rains, Neta Naar is all but inaccessible. Bastar is a Maoist stronghold, and the threat of an attack to disrupt the third phase of the ongoing 2014 general election is omnipresent; the Maoists had ordered the tribals of Koleng and Neta Naar to boycott the election. "They came and distributed pamphlets. It was disconcerting," a tribal youth told me.
The Election Commission took note of the Maoist threat. Nearly 450 CRPF men are scattered around the booth and in the jungle across the road. I can see men in uniform all around the booth. They are guarding as if it were a fort. Gun totting men have surrounded the booth. They are on the rooftop and behind the boundary walls. The men are heavily armed with all kinds of weapons. I see Insas rifles, the deadly AK-47, machine guns, MP5 guns and grenades. The GPS is in place.
Yet I wonder if these men are sitting ducks for the Maoists.
The men are on a day-long vigil as a steady stream of men and women drop in to cast their ballot. The village is sparsely populated, with clusters of mud huts. These clusters don't receive electricity. Power supply is limited to government structures only. These offices look like dead outposts in the wild.
My cell phone has turned into a useless contraption. I can only play games on it. The network is non-existent. I feel eerily disconnected from the rest of the world.
It is important for the administration to thwart the Maoist design this time. During the assembly election in November 2013, Maoists had opened fire at a polling booth in Koleng. And a deadly encounter at Neta Naar more than a year ago had left seven CRPF men dead.
By evening, 85 per cent tribals in Koleng and Neta Naar have cast their franchise. Of the total 684 voters, 582 came to vote, many trudged a 12km stretch on foot to arrive here. It's a victory of sorts for the forces of democracy.
Mogra, 45, a tribal from Goriapal village in the jungle, was one of the 582 to vote at the Neta Naar polling booth. Electricity, road and clean water is a distant dream for Mogra and all of Goriapal. Mogra had no idea who he was voting for. He only knew there was a 'phool' (flower) and a 'haath' (hand). "I came to vote as everyone in the village was doing so," Mogra told me when I asked him what prompted him to get out of the house given the Maoist threat.
Like Mogra, none of the villagers believed that voting will eventually bring a change to their village.
"We will continue to live as we are now," said Sonadhar of another nearby village.
"The Maoists' threat did not work. We had area domination for more than five days before the election day, and it has worked for us," said inspector DS Yadav, 52, of the 151 CRPF battalion and security in-charge of Neta Naar polling station.
I leave the station shortly after polling gets over. It's another 30-km motorbike ride back through the jungle.