CHITWAN, Nov 28: Khadak Bahadur Rana is 95. He has been living in a hut near the Balmiki Ashram, one of the most popular ashrams in the country since the last four decades. This area falls in ward number three of the Madi Municipality of Chitwan district where former prime minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda is candidate for the parliamentary election from the left alliance. Dahal and his rival candidate Bikram Pandey are the talk of the town. However, Rana is least aware of this. Not only Rana but also almost all the locals from the Ashram area have little to do with these popular election candidates. The ashram lies miles away from other human settlements of Madi and this isolated place of Madi remains disconnected with the vibrant atmosphere of Chitwan.
It is not that they do not vote. They cast vote, but not in Chitwan. Though they have been living in district for several decades now, they exercise voting rights in Nawalparasi. They have been doing so in lack of road or bridge to connect with the polling booth in Chitwan.
“It has simply been the practice since the beginning. We feel cut off from other parts of the district,” said Surya Bahadur Gurung, a local of the Ashram area. “Maybe the government officials find it hard to reach out to us from Chitwan and therefore they don't remember that we are part of the district,” he added.
According to Gurung, it is not easy for them to reach out to Nawalparsi either. However, they are used to it. “We have to cross the Narayani River and walk for hours across the jungle to reach the polling booth in Nawalparasi,” Gurung said.
On the other hand, election candidates from Nawalparasi take interest in these people. Gurung stated that candidates from Chitwan never remember them, but those from Nawalparasi come to show their face. “By place, we belong to Chitwan, but by voting rights we are from Nawalparasi,” he said.
When leaders come to their place, they feel good. Locals in the Arshram area stated that it, however, happens only during election time. “Leaders visit our locality during elections. Other than that, they never show up,” said Gurung. “Some election campaigners had visited our settlement in the morning today and urged us all to cast our votes,” he added.
The second phase of the parliamentary and provincial election, which covers Chitwan and Nawalparasi, is slated for December 7. Campaigners visiting this village have been urging them to cast their votes in their support.
Gurung also shared that all the candidates that have reached their place assured them that they wont have to pay charges for boat to cross the Narayani River. “We have already paid to the boats. So, none of you will have to pay for the boat. You come and cast your vote on the day of the election,” Gurung quoted one of the cadres, whom he could not name, as saying.
It costs Rs 50 per person to cross the river by boat. To save their money, the locals do not use boat. “We walk a little downstream on the Indian side and use the bridge over the canal,” Gurung said.
Balmiki Ashram is near the Nepal-India border. Though it falls in Chitwan, the locals were told to make their citizenship from Nawalparasi, back then when they got their citizenship. “At the time, officials told us to make our citizenship from Nawalparasi. We have little idea of the district borders but since we have our citizenship of Nawalparasi, we vote there,” Gurung said.
Most of the people here got their citizenship made in 1988. However, they have not yet been able to get land ownership certificates. They lament that despite promises from leaders in the past to facilitate the process of land ownership transfer, no one has kept their promises.
“During these years, many leaders have visited us and promised us that they will help us in getting certificate of land ownership. But so far no one has helped us,” Gurung said. Not only private property, the locals lament the sorry state in which they are living. Lack of crucial infrastructure like roads, power, and bridge among other necessity are missing from this area. “We don't have even the basic facilities in our area. We feel very much neglected as we don't have road, water, power, bridge,” Gurung said. There are around 150 households around the Arshram.