India is a democratic country. However, not every Indian takes this saying seriously – Every Vote Counts. Some even treat the days allotted to voting as national holidays. Not so this man – the LONE voter in the Gir Forest. Find out more about him!
The Lone Voter
Mahant Bharatdas Darshandas, a senior citizen, casts his precious vote in every election, be it the parliamentary elections or the state elections. I would rather take the liberty to say that he is India’s most cherished and indulged voter. And why not? After all, his vote is unique. He is the ONLY occupant of Banej in the Gir Forest, the home of the Asiatic Lions. For him, a special polling booth is set up every election season.
Banej is a part of the Una assembly segment of the Junagadh parliamentary constituency. It is located more than 100km away from Junagadh; in the interior of the dense isolated jungle.
Darshandas is a temple priest. He lives in and also looks after a sacred Shiva temple, situated in the heart of the forest.
Why This Special Treatment?
The Election Commission makes special arrangements for this man, at a place barely a 100m from the Shiva temple. A whitewashed forest office serves as the polling station. But why? Because the Commission has made it compulsory that no voter should “ordinarily travel more than 2km to reach the booth”.
Five polling officials, along with two police officers travel in an SUV from Una to Banej on V-Day. This difficult journey of 35km, to the middle of nowhere, is rewarded when Darshandas turns up at the polling station.
He says, “I get up early, have a bath, say my prayers, take my breakfast and saunter to the polling station around 11 am to cast my ballot. The polling officers are happy to see me come so that they can leave after my vote.”
However, no candidate ever comes to Darshandas while campaigning. Sometimes he doesn’t even know who they are.
Lifestyle of the Only Voter
Living in the middle of a forest is a mammoth task. With no electricity or phone, I don’t think I can survive here for more than a few hours.
Even though Darshandas is a happy man, he does feel isolated at times. “There were 45 of us here in the temple, living here. We had a huge rush of pilgrims. Then forest authorities began making it difficult for people to live here. So all of them left, and I am now the last voter standing,” he stated.
A few bulbs flicker powered by a dilapidated solar panel, inside the temple. No TV. No phone. The only thing that keeps Darshandas entertained is Hindi news on BBC shortwave radio.
Darshandas came to live here more than a decade ago. He dropped out of school, became religious and ended up at this temple. As the temple required a caretaker, Darshandas was more than happy to help. Now he also has a cook and a driver at his service.
Yes, this man has some swag. He drives into the temple in his pale green SUV. With sunglasses, open-buttoned khaki shirt and saffron sarongs, he sports a long, knotted, white beard.
He also has deer, peacocks, snakes and mosquitoes to accompany him. The lions prefer the more dense interiors.
But what are his expectations from the winning candidate?
“Mobile phone coverage is not the issue. I want better roads in the jungle so more pilgrims can visit the temple. Forest officers should not harass pilgrims who stay overnight,” he says.
Darshandas is proud of the importance given to him. He respects the efforts being made for him. He says, “I feel good that the authorities come here to pick up my vote. I feel honoured.”
I am proud to see India’s dedication towards its citizens. In Darshandas’ own words – “It proves how India values its democracy.”
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