//Not free enough to vote

Not free enough to vote

Rahul Karmakar, Hindustan Times, Silchang (Assam), March 25, 2006

Circa 1951. Machal Lalung (24) is incarcerated, for a petty crime no one is sure he committed, around the time independent India exercises her first franchise.

Half a century later and a free man at last — he languished 54 years in captivity, first in police custody and then in a mental asylum —Lalung has no idea what an election is all about. But his grandson Sumbor aroused his curiosity enough to get the old man to agree to "sample it".

To his disappointment, Sumbor found that his grandfather was not eligible to cast his first vote, at 78 years of age, as the electoral rolls were revised before he was released in July last year following the intervention of the National Human Rights Commission. Officials told him Lalung would have to wait until the next general elections.

Lalung, however, is unconcerned. He throws a blank glance at a convoy of campaigners passing by — his house off the National Highway 37 is under Jagiroad Assembly constituency in the Morigaon district —and resumes chopping firewood. "What do they want?" he asks. "Tell them I have no money."

Lalung is unaware that a Supreme Court directive made the state government deposit Rs 3 lakh as compensation in his new account in the rural bank at nearby Nellie. But, Sumbor points out, he is yet to receive the monthly stipend of Rs 1,000 assured two months back. "Our party will ensure that he receives his money regularly," says Congress candidate Bibekananda Doloi.

Sitting MLA and AGP (Progressive) candidate Bubul Das and BJP’s Satyahash Das have also focussed their attention on Lalung and his village, much to the amusement of his neighbours. "Everyone seems to be coming to our village after the old man came home," says Lakhi Pator, "I hope his popularity makes our life a bit easier."