Thoughts & Ideas

Friday, May 24, 2013

The Election - Some Interesting Feedback

I had posted the blog on my experiences in how polling is conducted in India. I have very interesting feedback from two of my close friends of their experiences. I give their first hand account below:

CK’s Experience:

It has been a long time since the election you have mentioned about. Things have changed quite a bit. I relate my experience below for a better appreciation of the scene today.

I am luckier or less lucky (depending on the way you look at it) than  you because I have had the oppurtunity to participate in conduct of nearly all parliamentary / assembly elections since long in varying capacities as Presiding officer, Static Magistrate or Patrolling cum Collecting Magistrate.

The earliest election that I recall was that of Sahebganj assembly constituency in 1993 in Muzaffarpur District, where I was presiding officer of a booth.My experience was worse than what your had undergone in 1991. The election was total farce. Laloo's stars were ascendant those days and one of his close confidant's and a candidate acutally walked inside the booth with his security guards wearing side arms. That is not permitted at all as you know. It would be evident to anyone that goons had terrorised the voting public and what followed was a very systematic stuffing of ballot boxes. Like a well oiled operation four goons formed a queue, the first one tearing the ballot paper from the book and forcing me to sign and then putting thumb impression on the counterfoil using fingers of his  hands in turn, the next one folding ballot paper properly in the manner required, the third one putting "cross" mark and finally the fourth one inserting teh ballot paper inside the ballot box. For the first time I had a first hand experience of what  was called BOOTH MANAGEMENT.The other polling officers and the security (Bihar Government BMP) stood a mute spectator. I realized that I was powerless to do anything in this remote area. In fact, I didn't even know in which direction to run, if things turned ugly. There were no cell phones at that time and there was no way to summon any help. Nevertheless, I took courage in my hands and slowed down the pace of signing the ballot paper. By 4.00 pm , as soon as voting stopped, I moved quickly to ensure that all ballot boxes were sealed and secured inside bags. When we got down to calculating the ballot account, it became apparent that voting percentage had been restricted to 65% only. My God, were they furious. They roughed me up and the presiding officer of the other booth. They wanted to reopen the boxes and wanted to see the percentage nearer to 95%. Fortunately for us, our collecting magistrate arrived and we started our journey back to the Ballot Box Collection Centre. Depositing Ballot boxes with Voting account was an ordeal from which could be free only by 2.00 am the next morning.

When I compare that experience with the most recent one of the parliamentary elections, in which UPA II came to power, the difference is that of between heaven and hell.I was Patrolling cum Collecting Magistrate at Bihta constituency, Patna District. This election was really something to be proud of as a citizen as also someone who actually helped in conduct of this election. First with electronic voting machines, all the ills of paper ballot have disappeared in one stroke. All that you have to ensure is that they are in proper working condition. Being in suitcase form, these are light and easy to carry. With Central paramilitary forces in charge of security, there is no fear for the polling party and they are also very capable of controlling the crowd with tact and firmness. As a patrolling and collecting magistrate, I got the all the help that was necessary in a very smooth and organised way, be it the  force squad, transport or the voting machines or organising the polling parties of the five booths which I was supposed to supervise and finally locating places where the booths were located. In fact, even our overnight stay was organised at a local centre with mattresses, generator for electricity, mosquito coils, the works. I was impressed. Election commission has really got its act together and hats off to them. They even had an SMS based reporting system, though it didn't work very well due signal absence at many places. However, the District Control Room kept telephoning you up at intervals to find out if everything was OK. That was reassuring. The voter turnout was impressive with ladies outnumbering the gents. For the first time, I also saw that lady voters had a mind of their own, which they were not willing to disclose to anyone including their husbands. Indian ladies are emerging from the shadows of their men-folk, it seems.

At one of the polling booth, where I had reached during course of patrolling, I found that village Mukhia and his henchmen were trying to gain entry inside the polling booth on the pretext of cleaning up school where the polling booth was situated, arguing that the school was in there charge and they needed to clean it for the following school day. He was told in no uncertain terms by the presiding officer that for the time till election was on, he was in charge of this area and Mukhia's presence was neither desirable nor required. If he insisted, force could be used against him. The Mukhia beat a hasty retreat and I thanked my stars that matter was solved without requiring my intervention. Voting stopped at its scheduled time and all the ballot machines had been sealed and collected by 5.00 pm and we were on our way to A N College, Patna. We had deposited the Ballot Boxes and Ballot account for all five booths by 8.00 pm and I was home having bath and dinner after hard but satisfying day's work. For once people were allowed to speak their mind without fear or favour in the ballot box. This was representative of the experience my other fellow officers had. If this experience is an all India experience, one can say that, people are allowed to speak their mind in India.

SK’s Experience

To see the dynamics of Indian democracy up-close is really a great experience - you were lucky. I also had the chance to be a Polling Agent (all for parties which were against the ruling dispensation of the time) in 2 Lok Sabha elections, and in the next one, after I joined SBI, to act as a Magistrate - like you. It was an unforgettable experience like yours - the best part was when I discussed the strategy for maintaining law & order with the Police Inspector assigned to me. His reply was cool . Sir, he explained " we will be stationed at the central booth (A), and if there is any news of a disturbance from, say, booth B, we will immediately move on to booth C ". Seeing incomprehension and surprise on may face, he explained further - "you see, I have 12 bullets in my stock, and six (Home Guard) constables who have not really fired a shot in years, wear sandles instead of shoes, and have ropes around their waists in place of belts , and the nearest Police Station is 22 KMs away (it was a 4 hours journey for 22 KMs, by an old Bedford Truck) !!" I bowed my head with respect at his wisdom - the dictum that discretion is the better part of valour was incarnate in his person!


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