Papa’s Elections Memoirs
Papa has always led his life by fixed routines with precision. The routine may change over a period of time as per his lifestyle changes but he always had a routine. Now at the age of 90, he is getting weaker mentally and physically, he still follows a routine. In the good old days, he used to get up early in the morning at 3.30 – 4 AM and sleep by 8.30-9 PM. But as he is getting older, he gets up late. Nevertheless, he always watches the news from 09 AM, after going through newspaper till his breakfast. The time of breakfast depend upon the time of maid which can be anytime from 9.45 to 10.15. She has flexible hours which vary in accordance with her daily routine. If she has to go early, she comes early and vice versa. Her visit is more important than the time of her visit. 🙂 Anyway, this post is about papa’s and not about Bhanuben. So, let us concentrate on that.
Papa is in the habit of going back in time as he is getting older. The election news triggered some old memories.
These days papa goes back and forth in time . More so at this age as he has entered ninties. He is becoming forgetful and his comprehension levels are also going down. This is sad but true. 🙁 The old memories are sharp and intact. This is the brighter side of the situation.
We know that, this is the election season, with UP, Panjab, Manipur, and other states going to poll, news anchors on all the news channels, are shouting at their highest pitch about elections. Many times, I wonder how come their lungs are not coming out of their mouth when they are shouting with such force for hours together. News is just sharing information, it should be without emotions. Why do they get so emotional ? Anyway, let us leave this. I am sharing papa’s memories and not correcting the news anchors.
With age, papa is unable to retain much of what he watches, but the election news triggered some old memories. He went back by a few decades in time. He started reminiscing about many election duties he had done during his long service as a gazetted officer with the government of Haryana. The first election he took part in as a young government officer was in 1957. He was the presiding officer of a polling booth set up in a school. There were four polling officers in a booth. In those days, there was no system of checking the identity of the voter like adhadar card, PAN card, etc. like it is done these days. There were no EVMs – Electronic Voting Machines. The voter has to mark her preference on a slip of paper and then drop it into the box of the preferred candidate. There used to be boxes kept for every candidate. The process is complete once the voter put the folded slip into the correct box. If it is not put inside the box, the vote is invalid. Many voters used to mark their vote on the paper but did not put it in any of the boxes. It was the duty of the presiding officer to collect all those slips and drop them in another box assigned for this job. All these votes were marked invalid.
During one of the elections, a fight took place among the people standing in the line waiting for their turn to vote. Every booth used to have 1 constable, one sub inspector, and 4 sepoys. Papa asked the sub inspector to stand in front of the crowd and tell them to keep quiet otherwise he will fire. Within seconds, people fall in line and voting started. This was the respect or aura of police and government officials.
Papa and others who were sent on election duty were trained for 4-5 days before being sent on the duty. There was a clear protocol designed by the nascent Election Commission of India. Every one on duty was very responsible to follow it to the T. It was a very proud moment for all to be conducting in this noble exercise. I could still sense the pride papa had in conducting the election.
One of the rule was that anyone who has come up to 5 PM will be allowed to cast his vote. In one of the booths which papa was presiding, there was a long queue. All the voters who were in line were eligible to vote. The gate of the booth was closed at 5 pm. It took six more hours to complete the voting that day. That is the polling was finished at around 11 PM. Then they have to seal the boxes and drop them at the assigned place. When they were finishing the process, the team from the election commission came there to check, for some untoward incident, as this was the only booth from where the boxes had not reached back. They heaved a sigh of relief to see everything is fine.
He was assigned counting duty once. It was tough but gripping. Every slip from the ballot boxes were taken out and then put in the box of the candidate. Once all the slips were classified, then the votes in each box of the candidate is counted. Even if one goes to washroom, a police man follows. The feeling of knowing the result before any one else was very exciting.
Papa was remembering about the enthusiasm of people about casting their vote. Slowly, it decreased but now in last few decades, with the awareness campaigns by Election Commission of India, political parties , and prominent citizens, people are coming in large numbers to vote. This is a great sign of a maturing democracy.