A hard day’s night, spent in fitful slumber. The morning after, spent in some more fitful slumber. Woken up to shouts of “If you remain sleeping like this, how will you vote?”.
I seem to have come a long way from since I was a kid, when elections were a source of endless joy to kids.
My center was a bit of a distance from my house, and man! you wouldn’t know there was an election going on. No sign absolutely, except for traffic jams on the narrow approach roads to the school.
A few tables under a few trees had folks who gave you your serial number. You took that and went to the relevant voting booth. They checked your photo ID and inked your finger. You went behind a cardboard screen and pressed a button. You heard a beep. It’s all over.
Hardly any sign that an election was on, save this fat youngish man who jumped in front of you and said “Naane Krishna Byre Gowda, medam, nannige vote haaki. Candidate #2 medam”. And young men in orange shirts saying ‘Saar saar, BJP-ge vote, saar, Ananth Kumar-ge vote maadi, saar’. And one ingenious guy who’d procured a model EVM panel from somewhere with Ananth Kumar’s name marked on it and showed you which button to press.Random kids running around with Congress flags. One of the ran upto my mother and said ‘Aunty, aunty, vote for Congress, aunty’. She said they had to be studying, not doing this sort of a job. They gave back a cheesy ‘aadre ivattu school illvalla aunty?’ That was about it.
And man, how many independents! The list of candidates was crazily long. I could have taught my two-year-old neighbor names of all the fruits and flowers just by showing her the EVM panel. No one seems to have cared about most of them… and hell, I didn’t even know Vatal Nagaraj was standing for elections till then!
A long long time back, when I was not old enough to vote, I used to live rather close to Vijaya Junior College, an election center. So you’d have folks coming to your door right from 7:30 am, exhorting you to vote. Not that anyone in our street needed it; every house had atleast one politically-aware member, in most cases, a grandfather, to drag the whole family off to vote even before the booth opened.
And that was a necessity…. someone else’d vote in your name if they could.
And the crowds! People thronged the place to vote. My uncle would check out the booth numbers well in advance just so that the rest of the family wasn’t caught in confusion and crowd when they went to vote. And maybe that’s why you hear stories only of families being separated at the Kumbh Mela and not at polling centers.
The path to the election center was lined with posters and buntings and whatnot. So many party symbols, so many colours. Bright orange ones for the BJP with Lord Ram posters, green-bordered ones with a wheel for JD, and… funnily, I don’t remember anything from the Congress campaign… maybe they thought they were beyond advertising, being so famous and all. You’d have partyLeader lookalikes, huge cutouts of politicians, and people shouting out slogans on microphones. And then you reached a desk which would mostly be manned by a volunteer you happened to know, and who wouldn’t wait until you told him your name to look it up and give you your booth number. And then you stood in queue with a gazillion others. When your turn came, they’d look at your ration card copy, make a mark against your name, a mark on your finger, and give you a ballot paper and point you to behind a cardboard screen. You stamped the paper and came out.
My grandfather took me to watch the fun, and the lady with the indelible ink very kindly obliged us by inking my finger as well. And I could show off in school the next day that I had ‘voted’
Talking of which… the indelible ink back then was some variant of ballpoint ink, and stayed where it was put for a week or two. Not like the ink now, which flows all over your hand and can be erased within minutes.
And enthu levels ohmigod…. all the old-timers on the street had taken it upon themselves to keep the poll fever on. They discussed, canvassed, volunteered, watched the news… and basically set the atmosphere. Even the oldest, senilest, illest folks turned up to vote, propped up by their sons or daughters-in-law. I remember this really ancient man on our street who went about telling the whole place to vote for BJP, vote for the lotus. And then comes out of the polling booth with a grin on his face, and when someone asked him who he voted for, he said with a twinkle in his eye, ‘Naanu chakrakke haakidini ‘ (I voted for the wheel (JD)).
Now my neighbors can hardly be bothered to get off their seats and trudge all the way to a center a kilometer away. There are no enthu old-timers either, to initiate conversation and discussion.
But most of all, I miss the entire election atmosphere. Even without the exit-poll gag, or saree and TV distribution, there should have been more of an atmosphere. I feel this is important, because it makes you feel like election is some sort of a ceremony, like bursting crackers on Diwali. Not some boring ‘fundamental duty’ you need to perform and get little in return, like paying taxes.
It should feel like it’s worth going back home after going half the way to the polling booth just to get your voter ID and come back, to vote. [For once, it wasn't me who forgot an all-important document before leaving the house.... it was my mother]. It shouldn’t bite that you are but one insignificant bit of a billion, and your vote is just a .000001% (figures not accurate) of the electorate.
And for that, nothing helps better than arrangements that look elaborate, and the infectious enthusiasm pervading the atmosphere for weeks before the polling date. It makes you feel like you’re doing something that matters, not like you’re wasting precious hours of work-free existence to take part in an activity from which you don’t get anything in the short run, a thankless job.
I don’t get why there’s a ban on offering voters TV sets and sarees. Or even cash. It’s all an incentive for people to come out and vote. Anyway it’s just one vote they can cast, great if they get something for it. Secret ballot is still guaranteed in this country for those who ask for it, so it’s quite a possibility voters take the saree/TV/cash and still vote for whoever they want…. atleast that’s what the flower-lady, the fruit-lady and all those folks I know who are lucky enough to get an incentive for voting do. I hate this mai-baap attitude of the government which presumes people are dumb enough to vote for anyone who gives them a saree.
My relatives in the US were talking about how during their presidential elections they don’t have any indelible ink, or extreme security measures, or loud campaigns which disturb their sleep…. the whole election process they said was so civilized, a far cry from the chaos in their homeland. [Aside: It brings to mind an image of folks walking into an election booth Apple-1984 style chanting "Obama, Obama".] Folks, don’t worry so much, we’re moving towards there.
Now if there was one aspect in which I’d beg people to not ape the West, I’d not talk about pub culture, or broken homes, or unhealthy food, or materialism, or capitalism or whatever crap… I’d just say leave our election fever be!
Bleg: I was wondering about ways to subvert the poll process, cast ultiple votes, capture booths and things like that. What are the chinks in the system? How do you sneak in votes in a number significant enough to make a difference? How much is possible without the compliance of the folks on election duty? How many folks on election duty actually subvert the process? What are the checks for the same? Someone kindly enlighten me.