The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Booths in jailhouse

New Delhi, June 16: This year’s President polls will have another unusual feature apart from a lady as the front runner: some district and central jails will be venues.

The Election Commission has said that apart from Parliament and Assemblies, jails where MPs or MLAs are lodged will be converted into polling booths on July 19.

Five MPs and over 25 MLAs who are among the “electors” are in prison now. The MPs are Shibu Soren (JMM), Babubhai Katara (BJP), Pappu Yadav (RJD), Shahabuddin (RJD) and Uma Kant Yadav (BSP).

Soren has been convicted in a murder case and Shahabuddin awarded a life term for the kidnap of a CPI(ML) worker. Katara is in judicial custody for human trafficking.

Pappu is in Tihar Jail over the murder of CPM leader Ajit Sarkar. Uma Kant has been in a Gorakhpur prison since his arrest from Mayavati’s house over landgrab allegations.

Sources said that for “security reasons” the Election Commission preferred converting jails into polling stations instead of ferrying these “electors” to state capitals.

The jailers will not play polling officers, though. Designated officials of the Lok Sabha, Rajya Sabha and Assembly secretariats will do the honours after scouting for and fixing up suitable venues in the jails.

According to law, the “electors” have four hours to cast their vote — between 11am and 3pm on July 19.

So, technically, in this period they can stay cooped up in air-conditioned or air-cooled rooms, sip tea and nibble on snacks before trudging back to their dingy cells.

Before the big day, they may get another chance to escape the jailhouse monotony and enjoy a chai-pani break. But this will be only if the President candidates choose to visit them to solicit votes.

UPA nominee Pratibha Patil will be kicking off her campaign in Chennai on July 1. She will then visit Calcutta.

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