This morning, I went to participate in the festival of democracy, also called general elections of India. I am speaking of the month long parliamentary elections in India, where I went to ‘cast my vote’. To be honest, I am not tremendously proud of the crop of politicians in this country or even heavily convinced about the ability of the traditional media to get into issues(and not personalities), which I sadly cannot follow much. But, I remain eagerly watchful for the arrival of the polling day- more than I perhaps waited for my birthday when I was growing up (Things have changed since I grew up. Now I absolutely detest the progressive arrival of my next birthday which inevitably happens, but then that is another matter!).
Having undergone a change of residence between the last elections in 2004 and now, I had followed a long process to have my name shifted to the voters list in the new area. I have always been, and remain so on this date, very possessive of seeing my name in this list.
So, this morning, I appear at the polling both, a few hundred yards from my house, and decide to take my wife’s bycycle, instead of walking. When I reach the polling station with my EPIC, I get convinced I did a good thing by coming out to vote.
The polling station, like it mostly happens, was setup in a school. The heat was unbearable. The polling staff was in sweat and a few police constables we minding the orderliness of the queue which was about two dozen long and steady. There was no AC for the staff to work in, something that we take so much granted at our workplace. They did not have any laptops or any handheld devices either. Neither did they have any magnetic card reader or any RFID enabled card reader, which could quickly read my id from my EPIC, match it with a database and return a validation.
Rather, very patiently, a polling staff member saw my EPIC, located my name in the voters list which was in the form of a book and called my name aloud. To the uninitiated, this practice of calling my name aloud is to allow the different party agents (who sit in the back row of the polling hall) to know who is in to vote, and to challenge in case an agent feels the person is not who he claims to be. Those agents sit with their own printouts of voters list and have usually done the groundwork in that neighbourhood to know most of the voters. Of course, nobody challenged me, but even in the crudeness of this process, I was mightly impressed that they were actually doing what they seem to be sitting there for.
After my name was located in the voters list, I was asked to move to the next table, where another polling official asked for an identification and a signature, onto a long notebook, something that we call as register in India. He also put an indelible ink mark, more a tradition than a purpose, on my left hand index finger. He did not have a pen type marker, but just a bottle with a basic brush, with which he was repeating with every voter.
Then came the moment. I was directed to take my position in the polling booth and make my choice. Those rough looking EVMs somehow seem to be a wonder to me. These machines are modular, and externally wired to each other and the presiding officer seems to have a control – he enables exactly one vote for every person. Once I pressed my selection, I heard a beep, and I was done.
What we generally miss to acknowledge is the massive force of polling officials across the country who generally travel to another area ( in the interest of neutrality perhaps), carry the voting machines (EVMs) with less than optimum resources (logistics and allowances), and repeat the process of voting from morning to evening for each and every person coming in. They travel by buses, climb mountains, even travel behind came backs in states such as Rajasthan. They begin several days early, usually stay away from their families for weeks and have no great arrangement for food or stay . Yet, they do succesfully manage to bring back the opinion of India’s aam admi.
I go to cast my vote for these folks and they remain my winners. To those who did not bother to have their names enlisted in the voters list or did not consider stepping out to vote for one of these crazy reasons, bad luck pal. You missed something in life.