The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Birth of Bihar the poll model Peaceful, but just short of perfect

Patna, Nov. 21: Fairest poll ever and the most peaceful by far. Even hard-nosed politicians, cutting across party lines, grudgingly admit that the election for the Bihar Assembly this time has been different and “clean”.

Nobody dared vote twice, they admit with wonder in their voice. The observers appeared to be on their toes and were far more knowledgeable about local conditions. They had physically inspected the booths, spoken to the voters and were aware of the apprehension in their mind.

Complaints from political parties were promptly looked into and even Laloo Prasad Yadav, who had initially been critical, eventually conceded that the quality of election had improved dramatically in the state.

It has not been a perfect election, though. Polling percentage has been low and there are dark hints that dominant groups managed to confine “lower caste groups” at home. “Bogus voting” was stopped but the “bogus voters” managed to prevent some genuine voters from voting for rivals.

More needs to be done, admitted K.J. Rao, the special adviser to the Election Commission, and a special cadre could be helpful. A proposal to create a special cadre of officers for the Election Commission, he pointed out, was forwarded by an earlier chief election commissioner, but was not followed up.

“This will help now more than ever because you often have two elections in a single year,” Rao said. Team-work, supervision, management and technology have combined to make every successive election better than the earlier one.

On polling days in Bihar, the district control rooms, set up generally at the collectorate, functioned like clockwork. In Nalanda, for example, there were six telephones manned by as many people and supervised by an executive magistrate and an observer deputed by the Election Commission. The numbers had been circulated earlier and publicised through the media so that not just political parties but just about anybody could call up and report or complain about anything.

A logbook was prepared in which incoming calls were to be recorded. The person receiving the call was expected to sign and record the time as well. Thereafter, he was expected to call up the patrolling magistrates or the officials concerned and apprise them of the problem. The name of the person called and the time again was to be logged. Finally, whoever took whatever corrective action on the ground was to report back to the control room which had to log the time the feedback was received.

For the first time, explained Nalanda district magistrate Sridhar, everyone associated with the election had been issued photo identity cards. Again, for the first time, all the booths, around 200 in each constituency, were tagged to a landline or a cellphone so that the control room could access the booths any time. An internal directory of the phone numbers against each booth had also been circulated to the officials concerned.

Digital cameras were used at virtually every “sensitive” booth, the number of which often rose to as many as 80 in a single constituency. The observers deployed by the Election Commission were required to visit as many booths as possible, specially in the remote areas, and inspect the booths and talk to the electorate about their apprehensions even before election day. This provided valuable inputs and led to corrective action.

On counting day, said Sridhar, counting centres will be using an “uploading software” to put the results on the Internet after every round. A three-tier system has been put in place to ensure checks and balances before they are uploaded.

“We cannot afford to make any mistake before the results are put on the Internet,” pointed out the young DM, “because once they are uploaded, it is no longer possible for anyone to tamper with them.” In Bihar, there have been complaints of returning officers favouring the ruling party in “close cases”.

By 2 pm tomorrow, officials said, the next chief minister would hopefully be able to stake his claim.

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