An election like no other
Five of Bengal’s eight-phase polling for its 294-member assembly are over. For the first time in decades, I watched the run-up to these polarized elections from the confines of our home. When it was my turn to vote (in the fourth phase), I hadn’t heard a single campaign speech and no candidate had come calling. In the past, we used to receive voter slips from all political parties; this year, only one arrived.
On April 10, armed with the poll slip and voter card, we reached the new clubhouse of a stadium that was our election centre. The arrangements were impeccable and every Covid-protocol was followed. Circles for social distancing, hand sanitizer, temperature check, gloves for the hand that would touch the EVM. And, most importantly, large dispensers for the gloves to be shed while leaving.
It took me all of two minutes to cast my vote. The rooms had been allocated according to voter slip numbers, so there was no crowding and no queue either. Everyone, from security personnel to polling officials, was wearing a face mask. Some party agents in the little booths did have theirs under the chin, but they were socially distanced in more ways than one. The only non-sanitized spot was the part of the table where the finger was inked. Our delight over such a smooth electoral process came on a day replete with reports of violence, firing, long queues and flouting of Covid norms elsewhere. Thank god for small mercies.
In another first, I also witnessed polling in our home when two octogenarian members were allowed to cast their votes. A group of seven, comprising a presiding officer, two polling officials, two gun-toting security men in fatigues and two party agents, arrived. The more menacing-looking of the two armed men entered the room along with the presiding officer and polling officials. The party agents remained outside and the other guard manned the gate. Any passerby would have imagined that Operation Poll Star was under way.
A cardboard screen was set up on the dining table to ensure secrecy of the “postal ballot” once the presiding officer had checked the voter slip and EPIC of the electorate duo. The voters (in turn) placed their ballot paper behind the cardboard partition, ticked against the candidate of their choice and folded it into four. One polling official recorded the procedure on his mobile phone.
The ballot was then ceremoniously inserted into an envelope and sealed with red wax. This was put into another envelope and the same sealing wax applied. Secrecy ensured, it went into the presiding officer’s sling bag. The only regret the veteran voters voiced was that their fingers had not been inked. We consoled them with Covid wisdom.
Nonagenarian R.C. Ganguly, a retired IAS officer, however, like many others aged over 80, opted to go to the booth and vote on April 17. “A poll panel personnel came to ask if I would like to vote at home. I declined the offer,” he said. And he is firm about signing. “The only time I put my fingerprint was when I drew my first salary,” he added. Sage advice for those who unquestioningly put their fingerprints on polling day although they can reap the fruits of literacy.
With three election phases still pending, we have grown accustomed to the whirring of helicopters overhead. Nearly a dozen of them, the smart grey air force ones included, dot the airport tarmac. They ferry the powers that be at a time the country is reeling under a resurgent pandemic. If only the Election Commission, so prompt to ‘ground’ some leaders, had banned all rallies for flouting Covid norms, instead of issuing futile warnings just a few days ago, we would have been a less threatened species today.