In this Punjab village, no rallies or dharnas, but just NOTA

Residents at Midwan village in Anandpur Sahib plan to use it to express protest over state neglect.

Annoyed over the indifference of successive governments towards their village, a section of young voters are contemplating voting “against all” in the Lok Sabha election at Midwan in Anandpur Sahib of Punjab .

They feel that by opting for NOTA, they will send a strong message to all parties about the displeasure of villagers regarding their problems.

“In an another month-and-a-half, the monsoon will hit the region. Water will start gushing through the local stream (nullah), which flows right through the middle of the village. For villagers commuting from one part of the village to another, life becomes difficult for two or three months. Students can’t cross the nullah and if they want to go to school, they have to travel about two kilometres from the forest road. Our movement is also restricted during medical emergencies,” says Dharam Singh, who works as an agent with an insurance company.

Empty promises

“We need a permanent bridge over this stream… Its not as if a very big bridge is needed, only a small bridge which will make our lives easier but no political party seems to care. During election, they come and promise to solve our problems but then nothing happens. This is the reason many here are contemplating NOTA this time,” Mr. Singh says.

Situated barely 5 km from the main town of Anandpur Sahib on the State highway, Midwan village, which has over 600 residents, grapples with poor drainage, inadequate street lighting, lack of sewage system and battered roads.

Amarjeet Kaur, a homemaker, has been using a new toilet in her house built under the Swachh Bharat Mission, which she says was a well-intentioned initiative by the Centre. She, however, adds that in absence of a sewage system in the village, the purpose of having a toilet is defeated.

“Construction of toilet is one thing but using it and maintaining it is another… To pump out the human waste from the pit once it reaches full capacity costs around ₹2,000 through machine or else it had to be emptied manually,” says Jasbir Kaur, the sarpanch of the village.

While Ms. Kaur and her family are not favouring NOTA, she feels that politicians should fulfil long-pending demands of the villagers. “There is an urgent need for the bridge, there are no streetlights, drainage and safe drinking water is another problem, the middle school needs to be upgraded. Besides, many in the village are still living in kachcha houses,” she adds.

Ravi Dutt, who runs a small-scale grease factory adjacent to the highway, points out that in the absence of a proper drainage system in the village, water gets accumulated in most parts of the village, making life difficult for its residents. “We have a middle school here, its ground turns into a swamp during the rains; snakes are a common sight, and it is dangerous for students and others to be in the school,” he says.

Social media to the rescue

Budh Ram, 31, a bus driver by profession, recently chose WhatsApp to mobilise support for NOTA. He says the effort seems to have started yielding positive result. “After I started a group on WhatsApp, titled Youth of Midwan, and urged people to consider NOTA this time, it started yielding positive results. A senior BJP leader recently visited the village and met us, requesting us not to opt for NOTA and promised that he would personally try to resolve our problems,” he says.

The electoral battle in one of the holiest places of the Sikhs is witnessing a multi-cornered contest among candidates of the Congress, Shiromani Akali Dal, Aam Aadmi Party and a breakaway faction of the Akali Dal, Shiromani Akali Dal (Taksali).

The SAD has fielded its sitting MP, Prem Singh Chandumajra, while the Congress has pitted Manish Tewari against him.

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