Children with poll pamphlets at Ratu in Ranchi on Tuesday. Picture by Hardeep Singh
Jet Francis Beck (aged three years and three months), student of an anganwadi near Bhatta Mohalla, woke up at his Harmu Bazar home at 6am on Tuesday and was soon out on the streets with his two-and-a-half-year-old cousin Arpan Beck. After 10 minutes, the duo spotted a campaign vehicle of Congress. As Arpan ran towards the vehicle, Jet, who has a plaster on his left leg, limped. The duo smiled when a party worker handed them caps bearing the ‘hand’ symbol.
Five-year-old Swastik Kumar, a student of Jesus and Mary School in Harmu, started crying at around 8.30pm on Tuesday in front of a campaign vehicle near Home Guard office when Congress workers failed to give him a cap with the lotus symbol. Finally, a youth drew a lotus on the rearside of the cap and handed it to Swastik.
Three-year-old Faizan , who goes to a play school near Gudri Chowk, was noticed beating a small dholak near Gudri Chowk to welcome a Congress rally at 1pm on Tuesday. As the procession neared, Faizan cried ‘Jindabad’, grabbed a supporter’s shirt and demanded a party flag. Having no extra flags, the party workers handed him a pamphlet with pictures of national and state leaders. When asked what was written on the pamphlet, Faizan said ‘Jindabad’.
Jet, Swastik and Faizan are among the hundreds of children who, despite being ineligible to cast votes, are participating in the festival called elections.
They are enjoying a welcome holiday after schoolbuses ferrying capital students were seized for poll duty and cradles had to down shutters.
With the capital caught in the frenzy of April 17 elections, children running around party flags, caps, pamphlets, wristbands and headgear is a common sight.
Class VIII student of St Aloysius School Arpan Kumar (13), who was himself sporting a cap bearing the CPI (M) symbol, confirmed that ever since schools had closed down, he had noticed several children running behind campaign vehicles and asking for caps or headbands.
Arpan added that he had helped many of these children in procuring caps. “Kitna ko diye honge le le ke. Kamal Phool bala, Haath Chhap, Kela Chhap, Kanghi Chhap Sab idhar aata hai (I helped many children get the collectibles. Vehicles bearing lotus symbol, hand symbol, banana symbol or comb symbols are making rounds here),” he said.
Manzoor Alam, who runs a makeshift shop of readymade cloth, echoed Arpan.
“In Azad Basti, Islam Nagar and Hindpiri, children are celebrating this pre-poll phase like festivals. One can see them playing in offices of different parties at evening,” he said.
Jharkhand State Child Rights Protection Commission member Sanjay Mishra hailed the festive mood as a positive sign. “These children are young soldiers of democracy. I have observed them sporting caps bearing signs of various political parties. Gradually, they will be familiar with what these symbols stand for,” he said.