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India Votes
In lions’ den, a polling booth for a solitary voter
Dinesh Kumar writes from Bhanej (Junagadh)

While politicians and officials derive their importance from the office they hold in a country with its repulsively strong VIP culture, 59 year-old Bapu Bharat Das certainly qualifies to be an EP (exclusive person) if not a VIP. He is India’s only voter with a polling booth all to himself. Since Bapu has been a conscientious voter, this booth has been recording cent percent polling for the last decade.

Located deep in a portion of the 1,412 square kilometer Gir reserve forest inhabited by wild animals and accessed only after a 23 km bone-rattling drive along a dusty kuccha track, Bapu is the resident priest in a temple ashram built around a sacred well whose antiquity, he claims, dates back to the Mahabharata. On April 30, Bapu would be voting for the third time in a Lok Sabha election ever since he began living here about 12 years ago. In all, it will be the fifth time he would solitarily be casting his vote. He voted in both the 1999 and 2004 Junagadh Lok Sabha constituency elections and the 2002 and 2007 assembly polls.

The polling booth will be a room in the small office-cum-residence of AD Bloch, a forester, posted here along with several colleagues to prevent poaching in this reserve forest teeming with wild life that includes lions, leopards, hyenas, wild boar and different types of deer including sambhar, chinkara and spotted deer.

“No one has come to canvass for my vote”, says Bapu, while expressing disdain for politicians. “Politicians specialise in making promises that they do not honour”, he says. But his grouse is also against the public, which he regrets is not sufficiently aware and conscious. “People are so burdened by poverty and unemployment that they do not get time to reach a higher level of awareness. They are taken in by false assurances that politicians offer”, he says. He hopes that things will change with time, though.

How does he feel having a polling booth specially set up for him? Bapu is indifferent. In fact he says he is unable to understand why the government has registered only his vote in this polling booth when he has about half-a-dozen people living with him in the ashram. “I have six people living with me including a driver, a cook, a pujari and cleaners. I have notified the government but they have failed to include them in the electoral rolls”, he says. As a result they are unable to vote. “I don’t know why this is so,” he says. No comments were forthcoming from the state election office.

“Since I am the only voter in this booth, it is not difficult to find out who I vote for”, he laughs while revealing that he has been voting for the BJP all these years. However, he is reluctant to speak about Narendra Modi’s performance as the state Chief Minister or about the Congress at the Centre.

Bapu certainly lives in interesting company. Three crocodiles and a turtle soak in the sun a few feet from each other in the Vasundari river that has formed into a small lake right besides the ashram. Over a score of peacocks dance, eat and play in the ashram’s courtyard while dozens of monkeys swing between trees as deer watch from a distance. As dusk falls, lions and leopards saunter uninhibited. “I enjoy being with the animals. I have come face to face many times with lions. But they don’t trouble me. Man is dangerous, not these animals”, he says with a philosophical attitude born out of his unique lifestyle.



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