Monday, December 1, 2008

A Suburban Election

Yesterday I had the privilege of putting out my vote. It is a privilege that I should have taken for granted because of being lucky enough to be a part of the world’s largest democracy. But I have not been able to take it for granted. Don’t think it is because of some graver-than-a-grave reason, it is only because each time there is an election, I’m scared that somebody will masquerade as me and cast my vote! Surprised? Welcome to a typical suburban election process in West Bengal, and probably in many other parts of India as well.

The process starts with representatives of the two main political parties in West Bengal, the Communists and the Trinamool Congress, turning up at your door with paper slips that contain your voting details like the booth number, polling center address, etc. You cannot miss the party logo and the candidate’s name printed on the paper even if you were blind. So you end up with two paper slips containing the same details! It’s propaganda, you know, and one has to outdo the other.

On your way to the polling booth, you will come across party booths manned by faithful cadres who can make things ‘easy’ for you if you happen to be without any identity proof. They have ‘inside’ assistance. This ‘inside’ assistance can backfire on you if you are not a regular voter or if you are known to vote for the opposition party. They know everyone and are more or less sure about everyone’s political leanings. How they do this is a secret better kept than the Coca-Cola mixture. So if you don’t owe your allegiance to them, it might be that you may not get to cast your vote at all.

They have sharp eyes, these cadres. They know how many people are walking down to the polling booth at which hour. If they spot a family of four voters being represented by only three of them, they make sure that the absence of one voter is not reflected on the turnout percentage. What are the party cadres for if they do not vote more than once? As for the blue ink that the polling officer puts on the left hand index finger as a giveaway mark of people who have already cast their vote, the ink is so watered down in most cases that it can be taken off with just a well-timed swipe of the handkerchief.

I have heard instances of Bengalis claiming themselves to be South Indians and casting “proxy votes”, as they are proudly referred to. There are occasions when you turn up at the polling booth and find that your vote has already been cast! Don’t be expecting assistance from the polling officers appointed by the government. How could you forget that the government is also formed by a political party? Whoever won a fair and free election in these parts?

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