Sir — I am appalled at the drama enacted inside the polling booth at the Seventh Day Adventist Day School in Park Street between the poll personnel and a Middleton Street resident, Suneil Sarawgi (“No-vote jeers at city booth”, Dec 4). The unsavoury remarks made by the polling agents when Sarawgi said that he wanted to exercise the ‘no vote’ option were uncalled for.
Sarawgi must have been convinced that no candidate deserves to be elected in the by-election for the South Calcutta Lok Sabha constituency. But he did not stay away from the polling booth. He acted as a responsible citizen by reaching the booth and duly authenticating his identity. After his name had been verified on the voter’s list, he said that he wanted to cast a ‘no vote’. The events that followed were deplorable, to say the least. The officers at the booth and even their seniors, who were consulted over the phone, were reluctant to let Sarawgi exercise the option. After quite a tussle, Sarawgi was successful in his attempt. As he was leaving the booth, instead of appreciating Sarawgi for his conscientious and bold approach, one party agent indirectly threatened him by loudly telling another man to note down the voter’s name and address.
I wonder how the poll officials, even after receiving training and necessary instructions from the Election Commission, could have behaved in the way they did. The EC should take proper action against such officials so that people are safely able to use the ‘no vote’ option in forthcoming elections. Besides, as the report says, the electronic voting machines should be fitted with a ‘no vote’ button to prevent complications in future. And if polling officials have any problem, they should directly call up the election control room and verify the rules instead of harassing a voter unnecessarily. The irony is that though a common man like Sarawgi is interested in and knows the intricacies of the voting process, the EC-appointed officials are happily oblivious of the rules.
And what about the party agents? The threatening vocabulary of the men in the Park Street booth indicates that dadagiri still exists, even after the so-called “paribartan”. Their power can be curbed only if the EC takes proper action against these particular agents. Finally, I salute Sarawgi for standing up for his right. His determination in the face of opposition has imparted a lesson, which even the training by the EC could not apparently deliver.
Ranesh Ch. Dey, Calcutta
Sir — Here we go again, correcting Khushwant Singh’s faulty memory, this time about his own activities. He thinks (“Vanity books on sale”, Dec 3), “I made it a point never to review any of his [P. Lal’s] publications [Writers Workshop].” Just a couple of extracts to establish the truth: in 2005, for example, Singh wrote in this same column, “We have a new talented poet joining the band of Ganga worshippers, Subash Misra.... In his collection of poems, Gangasmriti & Other Poems (Writers Workshop), he goes ecstatic in praise of ‘Srishti: The Creation’”, and then excerpted a long quote. Later that year, in the same place, he wrote about P. Lal, “Like all Writers Workshop books, the Mahabharata is... beautifully produced, and... is as highly readable as anything P. Lal writes. After having sampled the Adi Parva, readers will look forward to reading the complete text.” There are several other reviews to prove my point. And as far back as 1986, he even contributed a glowing introduction to another book of poetry published by Writers Workshop, Vineet Gupta’s Poems.
As for the funding sources and policies of the publishing industry, things are not as black and white as Singh believes. But those complexities need enough space for explanation and rebuttal of mistaken notions, beyond the scope of the Letters column.
Ananda Lal, Calcutta
Sir — Would somebody explain why the prices of vegetables and fruits shoot up before any festival in West Bengal while in Mumbai this does not happen, even before its greatest festival, Ganapati Puja? This can be due to the fact that in Mumbai, there are big supermarkets that sell fruits and vegetables at fixed prices, and so middlemen do not get the chance to overcharge retail vendors. In West Bengal,on the other hand, middlemen rule the market. When I had been to Calcutta last May, I had purchased brinjal at Rs 15 per kilogram on a Monday. On the Wednesday of the week, the price had shot to Rs 20, and on Friday, it was Rs 30. Am I to believe that farmers benefit from this increase? Middlemen make money while common men suffer. Why cannot the state government change the old business model to meet the challenges of a new world?
M. Guha, Mumbai