We were waiting out side the public school for the bus to come and pick us. We were as enthusiastic as ever. I’ve had such experiences before, so was just curious for the process to begin. Four elections I’ve attended as an assistant moderator in a rural place, but this is my first posting on such duty as the chief of the polling station. I was all excited with a little bit of fear. Others joined us and informed us that there shouldn’t be much of any problems, as the polling in that region had never been disturbed. I was happy as well to be carrying this BIG responsibility on my young shoulders.
We were all ready and counted the number of additional papers and other stationery, (just to kill time, everyone knows those were proper, ready, there was no mistake in the numbers… but still counted). Actually it’s an irritating thing, to wait with a lot of stationery and the important things in front of a Govt. building, with nothing else to do.. ;).
There was one more thing for me to be happy. It was the chairman of the assembly who was competing from that place. He was also projected to be the next chief minister. I was, in a way, proud of the fact to monitor at one booth of the constituency that elected the chief minister of the state.
Coming to the leader…He was quiet popular for his simple looks and simple approach he adapted before the media. I admired him for the same. But was not a fan of him, because, I hated the party he represented. Many other leaders, I didn’t like. Well.. Who am I to say who is good, who is bad, I had just be a helper to the real deciders to decide upon who is best suited for them in the system of democracy. Of course, I too would vote; but not to elect the chief minister.
We, myself and three sub-ordinates with a police guarding us (of course with a big Banduk held in place), left for our destined place. It was a bus containing 10 such groups. Unfortunately mine was the last booth to be driven in. So, counted the boxes, number of pencils, and the other things again for the 100th time; read the complete manual for the200th time. But certainly I was a bit nervous and was happy tooo.
Finally reached the destiny, exactly 30 mins before 5, Got down the bus, made sure that everything was in place. We were told that a police jeep would fly inn and distribute the ballot papers. So it was the time to settle down. Went in and asked the police to get us a bucket of water to get freshened up. We were told that the village had no tap, so we had to get the water collected from a well at the center of the village. I asked the helper provided by the panchayat to stretch a bucket of water for us. He listened obediently and finally fetched a bucket full of water; the whole process took 30 mins.
I asked him, whether there was any hotel nearby so that we had dinner with peace. He said there was no such a thing in the surrounding 8 villages! Thank God! My mother, being so thoughtful, might have pre-seen this scene, so that might have persuaded her to pack a bunch of chapatis for me. I counted them now, as though these were the precious things now, more valuable than the ballots that I kept counting till then. ;) There were 10 chapatis…Thought that should be enough until I reach home. So, hid them from any piercing eye. I was just a senior in the team, not responsible for their food and other luxuries. Let them take their own care. I felt as though I was the richest in the team with the food. Others, one of them was an amateur, so, other two started narrating their earlier experiences…. And I learnt from them that they had got enough food in the form of bread, biscuit… etc.. Ooops… they turned out to be cleverer.
Soon after we just settled down and marked the entire place as was instructed to us, I found an elderly man wearing a shawl on the shoulder approaching me. I was afraid at first. Then went ahead and started to talk with him with a bit tough tone itself. I said, “You are an old fellow, might have seen many such elections. Don’t you know that you should not enter this place without being appointed by election commission.” He listened to me peacefully and introduced himself to be the chief of that village’s panchayat. I Helloed him. Then he said, he had arranged the dinner at his house for all the five of us. I politely said “Sorry Sir, since you belong to a political party, we cannot accept your treat.” He thought for a moment and said, “You are our guests today. We cannot leave you people starving. It won’t be good for our village. OK. I’ll arrange for the food here itself. Please don’t refuse. I’ll send it with some other person.”, for which I said, “Why are you troubling yourself so much. We’ll take care.”. He asked me if I wanted to bring the ill will of Gods over that village…! Well… I had no answer for it. so finally it was decided that we would have no problems with fooding until we left that place.
In the evening, I just took a stroll across the village. It was surrounded with a lot of green fields, and majority of the villagers were living in huts, not to say, bellow poverty line and most of them were illiterate. Some of the houses were really big and I felt, they could accommodate the entire village.
Well.. came back to the school where we were to stay that night. Checked for the proper arrangements for sleeping, and then the food arrived. We had a fantastic dinner. My mother’s chapatis, I distributed between everyone, along with the village’s food. My richness shared among the poor people. ;) Wanted to call home for informing them of my safety and the arrangements, but couldn’t do it since there was no telephone in the entire village.
Night passed without much hiss and fuzz…. And the Sun started his journey upward… It promised to be a cloudy day. I prostrated before the Sun God and asked for his blessings for the smooth passage of this big day in my life.
I just assumed that all the people in the village were to be like the one I met the previous day, good and honored; and felt better.
Then we got breakfast from the same gentleman’s house, and then announced the starting of the process of voting. First voter turned out to be the same elderly man, who kept providing us with the tasty food from the previous night. His wife came next and all his children voted in succession. He also said that previous experience made him compelled to vote first, so that his vote was not wasted. I didn’t understand the context of his message. I just thanked him for his efforts in providing us with the food and shelter. He said it was his duty. And then he left. The villagers started coming.
After some time, the policeman came in and wanted to talk to me. I enquired what the matter was. He said some of the political agents were bribing the voters with money and asked me what he should be doing now. I asked him to frighten the crowd around and stay on until the patrolling jeep came in. I was a bit irritated at this news, though.
It was lunchtime and duly we received the lunch from the house of the chairman. One by one we finished lunch. Then the patrolling jeep came. I reported them about the policeman’s discovery. They ruled out any action and calmed me down by saying it was a common thing across the country, and asked me to forget about it. Anyways, the result was pre-known and these issues didn’t have effect on it. I kept quiet and once they left, I asked the political agents to stop it at least in the surrounding of the booth. They had a brief quarrel among themselves for the ill activities. I had to stop people entering in for about 15 mins, by which time, all of them went out and convinced their people and peacefully came in. The process of voting continued with no interruption. I was happy at my success in persuading the rigid party workers to stop their miss-deed.
It was 4PM. I was just one hour away from announcing the end of the process. By that time the turn out might just be around 50%. I thought fair enough. I did succeed in my first assignment as a chief of an election observation. I was started feeling pride for myself for all these things.
There were not many people coming in to vote. It was just a passive time. We were joking on each other inside the cabin and passing our time off.
Then came a big group of people. I thought they were just voters coming from a neighboring village, and got ready to give them all the ballots for voting. I least knew that they were not voters, but violators.
They all came in, pushing the poor police man out, closed the door behind them, and before anyone could guess what was happening, they occupied all the corners of the room, holding some weapons, scaring us all. We had better shut up and heeded to all their orders, I was clueless as to what was going on.
I derived a little strength from some un-known corner of my heart and went ahead and talked sounding as friendly as possible. I asked them what they wanted. I enquired if they voted before. Everyone said they’d voted already. They didn’t stop at that. Instead, they went on threatening me with the weapons. I was shocked to the core. I had not a faintest clue about these things. I always had a feeling that I live in a democratic world. I used to see them only in movies; those movie fanatics showed what they desired, I had thought.
But this moment, I had a thing to sort out. I did not know how. The opposing team was equipped with deadly weapons. In any case, I had to surrender before them. Should I become a fool in this system and get killed along with my staff, and become a national hero, or should I allow them do whatever they did, against my own principles and hide it from everyone, allow some Rowdy to rule this land. I was thinking about the consequences in each case. If I hid it from the officers and somehow, if they find out, I was standing in a chance of loosing my job. Otherwise, I was in a chance of loosing my life. Both were unthinkable for me.
I remembered my mother then, and my teacher, and my father, everyone, prepared myself to bid adieu to them from that dreaded place itself.
Then with calm voice I addressed them, asked them which party they belonged to and how bad it was to hijack the democratic process. They went aggressive, but their leader said that they belonged to the party from which the chief ministerial candidate was contesting. I virtually laughed at this. And said “He is a popular leader. Why do you want to try spoiling his name? He’ll win any ways.” For which one of them tightened the voice and said that the trend was against them and they would loose face in the state if their chief ministerial candidate were defeated. So, they had to do this. I was really shocked. What a good chap he seems to be on TV and what has he really been exposed here as!!!! I said nothing, and they expected nothing from my mouth too. They all came in, snatched all the ballot papers from my hand, started pressing against the dreaded name. I was just a dumb spectator at this crazy frenzy of the fans of the biggest leader of the state.
Some one remarked from the behind, “His signature is needed on all the papers, else these ballots would be considered as invalid.” Again all of them came rushing towards me. I said, since you people have already cast the vote, I could not sign on it anymore, but they were in no mood to heed to my lecture. I was forced to put my signature on them.
Once every last ballot was cast, they smiled triumphantly, looked at me with a witty look and frightened me for the last time with their weapons and ordered me not to reveal anything to any one. And then they left. I sighed a relief. My colleagues were happy that they escaped un-hurt. All advised me to keep silent about it in front of the officers while returning the boxes. I didn’t say a word to them.
Bus came; we boarded it with all our ‘Burdens’ and strange experiences. I was somehow feeling I should not have allowed them to take advantage of my helplessness. I should have been a martyr; I was feeling guilty at this, then.
In the constituency head quarters, I descended the steps of the bus with loads of Burdens of my own cowardice. I made up my mind to inform my inability to control the crowd to the electoral officers. When they asked me how the process went, I explained them the whole story, made no mistake in telling them about the rowdies taking charge of the booth and the ballots, the officers looked at all the papers, and enquired about my signatures in the proper places, which were intact. I explained them about my help-less-ness at the moment, and requested for a re-election with more security at the booth.
The officers were clueless and threatened me of leaving the duty of re-election on me again if it were to be held. And also, they promised me of no consequences if I didn’t complain about the irregularities. This constituency was at the eye of the whole state and they didn’t want any such ‘Black marks’ in the process to be disclosed.(!) I was shocked at their attitude.
I was adamant about my complaint. I explained them the trauma I was going through since the happening. And how I didn’t want any such happenings further. And also my belief in democracy and its process. I wanted no more argument; I wanted my complaint be registered and I wrote a letter to the election commissioner of the state with copies to all the officers sitting there, got it signed by my associates. I was in no mood to conspire any colonial right wits. I was successful finally to lodge the complaint and get the approval for a re-election in the constituency.
The feeling of a good village finally turned to be a place of ghosts in my mind and any amount of hard work by the chairman could not get the village moving in a right direction. This reminds me that the importance of teachers and their good thoughts can contribute in creating a brand new world.
This is a part of my experience at some remote place. This left me wondering about the true picture of the nation. I remember my Bihari friends telling me that the electoral voters were made to vote at the point of a gun in their villages and towns!!! What a face of democracy. I sometimes doubt if any number of true teachers will be able to change the fate of this country.
In India, we have had a great set of teachers who taught that harming the sentiments of others was not DHARMA. They also taught that the Faith and Dharma alone could keep the goodness in the world alive and flying. Unfortunately Indians have failed to understand the greatness of the Dharma even after so many teachers teaching the same thing. It was not understood properly in the past, and today, still we are pushing the true Dharma in to the ruins. We are no different from those mindless beasts who spoiled our civilization some centuries ago with their mindless act. I hope for a second freedom struggle to get rid of all these self-centered politicians from the country. God!! Save my country, Please.