16 voters and a village called Ka: All is quiet on this poll front

Surrounded by mountains and the steady stream of the Sutlej flowing through it. The village with a few isolated houses located on uneven terrain is an eye-catcher for tourists coming towards Lahaul-Spiti and Leh. But with the state polling on Saturday, Ka has an audience.

Last week, an Election Commission team visited Ka in Himachal Pradesh’s Kinnar district and set up a booth for its 16 voters – the lowest number of voters among the state’s 7,881 polling booths. Election officials also helped residents with their voting and Aadhaar cards.

Here’s what Tenzin Gonpo, 27, and his wife Gulab Poti, 26, are excited about — the audience, not so much the election. Among Ka’s 16 constituents, the couple runs a dhaba that usually serves as the first point of contact for outsiders.

“We love tourists. It’s good when they stop and we interact with them. In many ways, they are our link to the outside world,” said Tenzin, who is voting in his first election.

Most of the 16 people on the EC electoral roll are extended relatives of Tenzin and Gulab.

By the time we reach Ka, a village of about 50 people, part of the Kinnar assembly constituency, the echoes of the high-profile election campaign in the rest of the state have almost died out. The BJP has fielded Surat Negi, who is up against incumbent Congress MLA Jagat Singh Negi.

Both parties have rolled out their best arsenal — Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah have made multiple visits to the state and the ruling BJP has promised 8 lakh jobs from the Uniform Civil Code. Not to be outdone, the Congress promised Rs 1,500 for women aged 18 to 60 and assured that it would bring back the old pension scheme.

But Tenzin said the people of Ka have very low expectations of the government and political parties and are therefore not disappointed.

“Elections are important, but we have to earn our own livelihood and cannot depend on government benefits. For us, it’s about survival. First we survive the rain, then we survive the winter. And somewhere through all this, we make our living. So we are happy when someone comes and meets us,” says Tenzin, sitting outside his dhaba watching the sparse traffic below.

The silence was broken only by the sound of the cold wind and the occasional army truck and tourist car down the highway.

The nearest health center is 30 km away at Nako and the nearest specialty hospital is about 300 km away at Shimla. The nearest medical shop is also 30 km away.

The people of Ka usually travel to villages at lower altitudes like Spilo to stock their vegetables and groceries. On Monday evening, the village was largely deserted except for Tenzin and Gulab and two elderly residents. With no broadband or WiFi networks, villagers rely largely on mobile internet — though the signal is usually spotty.

“If I have to make an internet call, I better cross the street. If I have to listen to a politician’s speech, I have to do the same.

So I don’t listen to them much,” Tenjin jokes.

A broken earthen step spirals into a two-story building right next to the highway. It used to be a primary school but has been closed for years as there are no children in the village – it has now been renovated as a polling station.

Although satellite TV has helped villagers stay in touch with political events, they prefer a different pace.

“There is not much politics here. Modi factor? Hmm… Birbhadra Singh was highly respected by our family. He was the one who built Himachal and we were told that he would visit these regions. We have heard about BJP but never seen their big leaders in person. Are they promising plans for women? But here we are alone,” says Gulab, sipping tea.

Tenzin, who studied Tibetan culture at Dharamsala, returned to Ka four years ago to set up the restaurant. Gulab and he built it without any government assistance or loans, he said. Power supply is regular and rarely interrupted. “Water is a problem, though. The supply comes from a nearby station and we use a motor to pump the water and store it in cans. Our road connectivity is good. But that’s not for us. Army needs to have access and a lot of road infrastructure is built for them. It would be good if the government has a dedicated scheme for us. We may be few in number but we are also important,” said Tenzin.

The Election Commission could not agree more.

“People tell us that 16 is a small number, but for election purposes, it is a significant number because the principle is to focus on every voter. The people of Ka are very important to our democracy and the administration will ensure that they are helped at every step,” said Abid Hussain Sadiq, DC Kinnar.

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