Saturday, May 2, 2009


Or, how I almost got caught in a stampede on Polling day. A step-by-step report:

On the last day of training, we met the other members of our ‘polling party’ (comprising a Presiding Officer – me, that is – an Assistant Presiding Officer, two Polling Officers and a Peon). There were several such parties under each Zonal Officer, and each party would be in charge of a Polling Station, reporting to their respective Zonal Officer. We exchanged phone numbers and listened to a long lecture on the what-to-dos and what-not-to-dos and how-to-manage-things-if-youv’e-done-a-‘what-not-to-do’.
Mystified by the Marathi, I dozed off in the middle.

Next day, the day before the polls, we were supposed to meet at the Central Polling Station, collect the polling materials (including the star of the show – the Electronic Voting Machine) and go to our Polling Stations to set up things for the big day.

However, the authorities had decided brilliantly to ‘randomize’ the allotments. So, our zonal officers had been changed and the ‘polling parties’ under each officer had also been shuffled out of sequence. Chaos Theory ruled. We had to wait for announcements to learn who would be our zonal officer, and then we had to weave through an increasingly restive crowd to find these fellows. People kept colliding into each other, like the random movements of atoms, and it took hours before each molecule (polling party) was formed. It was like a bad Hindi lost-and-found movie, with everybody searching for their team members. Matters were not helped at all by the fact that we were all hustled into a huge and hot basement where cellphone networks were not working. I don’t know why they did not put up lists about who-would –go-where; it would have made finding each other much easier, and the poor fellows who shouted themselves hoarse at the announcement counter could have spared their throats a bit.

Anyway, after six hours of sweating, swearing and searching, the teams were assembled and we went in police-escorted taxis and trucks to a school building where our Polling Station was located. Our building had seven Polling Stations who were given a room each. We spent the next few hours checking poll materials, partly filling up numerous forms and envelopes, putting up signboards and arranging who would sit where. The most interesting bit was actually operating the EVM and conducting a mock-poll. There were 23 candidates contesting from our constituency, some with really intriguing symbols like balloon, whistle and comb. Two candidates were perhaps hoping to cash in on the IPL craze – one had a cricket bat as a symbol and the other had opted for a picture of a cricketer.

There were giggly first-time voters, there were feisty old ladies and doddering gentlemen with walking sticks (one had recently undergone a heart operation). Some were clear in their choice – they strode in, hit the button straight away, and strode out, head high. Some were confused – peering at the ballot units, scratching their heads, looking at us for inspiration and taking ages to make up their minds. The rush hours were 10 to 2, with long lines snaking out of the rooms into the hot sun. Voters might have cribbed, the process is slightly long because of the various checks and balances. My team was efficient and experienced and I learnt a lot from them. It was a friendly, let’s-all-get-this-thing-done-as-well-as-we-can and don’t-worry-when-we-are-with-you kind of feeling and, although it was my first time, I sailed through confidently because of them.

By 7 p.m, the voting machines were closed and sealed, reports all ready
, envelopes filled but stomachs empty. The Zonal Officer had checked everything to his satisfaction and we were ready to leave. Only, we did not. We left at 8.30 and went, under police escort (I was feeling tired but important) to the Central Polling Station to deposit everything. Read CHAOS PANIC STATION. There was one counter to collect the EVMs and some documents of 75 polling parties. There were four other counters to submit four other sets of documents and stuff, each having a mile-long queue. Each envelope was opened and contents checked (didn't they trust the Zonal Officers?). We then had to put everything back and form another queue just to hand things over. It was bureaucracy at its duplicitous, slowest, worst.

The only violent incidents of the day took place at the EVM-deposit counter. Polling officials, who had all started work way before dawn, got mutinous and manic – queues were broken and the EVM- carrying -cases were useful weapons to push and shove. Tempers got frayed and policemen had to be deployed to maintain discipline. We had to stand on the steps leading to the hallowed counter for over three hours. I, by virtue of being a ‘ladies’, managed to jump the queue and my adroit Zonal Officer helped me in my underhand activities. Too trodden-upon to feel guilty, I took unfair advantage.

Crushed,exhausted, hungry and battle-sore, thus ended my first tryst with the democratic machinery. It was, as Pandit Nehru had said, a ‘tryst with destiny’, and, almost true to his words, it had ended post-midnight.


magiceye said...

bureaucrats sure know how to make life exciting!
loved reading your account in your acerbic accent!
did you manage to cast your vote?

ugich konitari said...


I went to vote at our school here, and saw a lady in the voting room, sitting under a sign saying, "Presiding Officer"; I immediately remembered you !

We take a lot of such people for granted, but after reading your account of the stuff, it seems to me that they(the government) try to make it as difficult as possible for you....

Kudos for taking part and coming out with flying colors....but did you get to vote yourself, or were u part of the "dutiful" 1 lakh who couldnt vote...?

Sayani said...

The pre and post polling trauma is what i came to know through this post...
sadly enough the systematic approach is always violated
Anyway its all Bureaucracy we know

btw i cast the vote for mother's day :) won't say to whom

take care

Anonymous said...

loved reading the account :D
but made me shudder coz I still have to go out in this heat and vote :((
heat's fine, voting's a great thing...but the jostling and the rush is so unnerving :(

Lazyani said...

That was some eye opener. Really, we excel in making simple things complicated.

Mina Jade said...

Politics could never stop intriguing me. It is such an interesting topic. I think I'm a real political type.

Inder said...

you made it through :)

Sumandebray said...

Reading through your post got some of my old memories refreshed. It is definitely great efforts put up by individuals like you (the unsung heroes) that make this election in world’s largest democracy happen. I didn’t yet get an opportunity to vote in any of the elections till date. But I wonder if I were to press that button would the selection criteria be the symbol (a balloon or a picture of a cricketer or a film actress for that matter) or I will have to stand in front of the machine and go "inky pinky ponky..."

Little Girl Lost said...

Sucharita... your descriptions had me laughing out loud...
it seems to haver been a very educative experience :)

Scribbit said...

I've been eagerly listening to reports about the elections and it really is fascinating. Seems like a huge party as well as a political process.

Sucharita Sarkar said...

the acerbity is a by-product of frustration, and no I did not cast my vote.

I was guilty of being part of the 'dutiful' one lakh.

the trauma was all pre and post; voting itelf was an educating experience.

the jostling in the voters' queues at peak hour does unnerve, but much less than the jostling we had to face while trying to deposit the EVMs.

that is the basic lesson taught to bureaucrats, I guess.

Yes, I did feel like titling this post: "A survivor's tale".

@Mina Jade,
People need brave and confident political representatives, so go ahead, you fit the bill.

@suman debray,
'inky pinky ponky' is perhaps the best way to 'randomize' our selection.

@little girl lost,
educative and nerve-wracking...

it is rather like a huge circus, with us feeling like overworked clowns sometimes.

Pradip Biswas said...

To people like us: we were anxiously waiting for our vehicle to come back after election duty. The vehicle as expected was serously sick and injured and shall need more tha a week to recover. This was the state of only Person( we consider our Jeep a live object0 who attended vote-duty.

Double-Dolphin said...

These are some amazing stories! Behind the scenes of democracy! Cool stuff!

SGD said...

Quite an experience!!!

Lilly said...

How interesting was that...and how exhausting for you. Congrats for surviving. I am sure it is just the same in most countries. All the red tape....

Sucharita Sarkar said...

@ Pradipda,

Thank God, it was only the jeep that was battered and not you or your colleagues.

@ Double-D and SGD,

You lucky people in the private I envy you.


Is it all a post-colonial legacy?