The Great Indian Democractic Exercise

Our Democracy boasts of its strength due to its presence right from the grassroots level. From a small hamlet to our Parliament,  we elect our representatives. There may be some shortcomings in our system, but, the ethos of democracy is visible. India, as it is, is a festive nation, its people, almost all round the year are in festive mood, elections too keep on happening almost all round the year, the village elections, the district body polls, the state elections, the national elections.  Even as i write this article, the elections are round the corner in five major states and even in local bodies in my own state. It is not for nothing that we are the largest democracy in this world after all.

I am reminded of my association with the election, being in a government service gives me the extra dimension to witness the whole process from within & from outside. I still remember the joy of having attained my voting rights and voting for the first time. It was a thrilling experience. But, I have also done the “Election Duty”,  i.e. to actually participate & conduct the poll process on the election day. And trust me, its thrilling as well. 

I was fresh in my service then, the General Elections were announced in the last years of the 1990s. I was appointed as an Assistant Presiding Officer with the role assigned to assist in conducting the free and fair poll for the given polling booth allotted to me. The training process to operate the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) began. It is noteworthy that the entire bureaucracy which is almost always criticized for its lethargy shows alertness and activeness during the entire poll process. The District Collector of each district assumes more powers, he has the right to allot election duties to any government servant, he can stop any government vehicle and allot it election duties. He has right to suspend the erring official then and there. Perhaps, this fear factor gears up the entire thing. A dress rehearsal is conducted a day before the election.

On that polling day, i had to report to the polling center at 06.00 am sharp. The polling center was far away from my home and so had to catch the 4.00 am train. I reached the polling station, a Municipal School, took charge of the polling machine, i had a team of five six officials, all school teachers, with me. After all the procedural part, the polling had to begin invariably at 07.00 am. And it did in my case.

The early heartbeats had receded and i was getting attuned to the entire process, the supporting staff were also jovial and was doing their job quite efficiently. I thought it would be a smooth sail as the clock showed 01.00 pm.

It must be mentioned here that each political party nominates its agent to oversee the poll process in each booth. Being Government employee and to represent impartiality we are barred from accepting any food items from these polling agents. So, on the one hand, as these agents were feasting on sweets, snacks, and delicacies, we were haplessly watching them.

It was afternoon and lunchtime, i relieved the staff in batches of two-two each for half an hour for lunch break. I decided to go last. We were around three-four people now, and one policeman, who is allotted to each booth. The voting queue was swelling up in the afternoon and there were around thirty people awaiting their turn to vote, when suddenly this happened.

A boy in his teens came flashing his ration card and voting slip. From his looks, he looked nowhere near 18 years of age, the mandatory age for voting. I asked him his name, date of birth etc, even the polling agent raised his suspicion. So as per the prescribed rules, the whole process of election in my booth had to be stopped. The Policeman standing at the door was asked to deny entry to any voter. It was a sensitive area where the voting was taking place and the situation suddenly became tense. The crowd started shouting for stopping the polling process. Maybe it was all orchestrated by one political party. The policeman immediately called his boss and a hefty police inspector came in. I showed him the boy, the boy, like a hardened criminal was sitting nonchalantly on the bench, where he was made to sit. The cop lost his cool and shouted loudly at the boy, the boy gave away all the theatrics finally and agreed that he was voting for someone else. The cops took away the boy for further legal action. It was my first encounter with the law enforcement machinery then and i was shocked by the speed in which these things panned. Now after many elections and many election duties, later this incident sounds so silly. 

One will always find some rotten fish in the pond, but, that does not sully the entire community. Our Democracy is also one such thing, given the fact that the world is showing so much intolerance.  Here, we have that liberty to criticize just anybody, nobody is persecuted for caricaturing anybody. In fact, our top leaders are more often than not topics of jokes and comedy. Stand-up comedians make their living out of this liberty that our democracy and our constitution gave.

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Monumental Mistake…

There is a mad rush of two kinds, it seems, one is to rename the places and other is to build huge monuments. The places are being renamed in such a haste that one will certainly be confused for a while. A new station almost popped out of nowhere between Jogeshwari and Goregaon, it was named Ram Mandir. Elphinstone road station is being renamed as Prabhadevi, a proposal is under consideration to renaming Dadar as Chaityabhoomi and many such proposals are in the air. All for narrow political gains and to score those precious brownie points with their respective vote banks.  Monuments are also being created with equal pace. A huge statue of Sardar Patel is coming up in Gujarat. A monument for the great Maratha warrior King Shivaji Maharaj, at least the foundation stone of which has been laid in the Arabian Sea.

I have been a self-proclaimed follower of Shivaji Maharaj since my early childhood days. We, as kids grew up listening to his stories of valor. Over the years, I have read as much literature as possible on the great king, have never missed an opportunity to visit a fort during my tours. Even in the last trip to Jaigad for some other work, I made it a point to visit the Jaigad fort. The conditions of these forts make me angry, very very angry. In my earlier blog post on Lohgad fort penned in 2010 (read here), i had raised the condition of the fort and the ensuing loot that was going on there. In my social life, working with an NGO we had written to the Cultural Ministry about the apathy shown towards the upkeep of these monuments. No reply was ever received, for obvious reasons. No one cares.

The Jaigad fort, which I recently visited too is a nice little fort, just 14 kms away from the famous temple town of Ganapatipule. The fort is in its worst condition, the walls are cracking up, there are no signs of upkeep. One banner of “swaccha bharat abhiyan” was hanging at the entrance which contradicted the condition of the fort. There was an office of Archeological Survey of India, but, it looked deserted. Considering the fact that the fort was just 14 kms away from Ganapatipule, one would assume that there would be rush here, but, the fort looked desolate, with two or three groups. The fort is adorned with a creek and is the meeting point of Shashti river. It gives a very beautiful scenic view. The fort would have had its deserved part of glory, had it been maintained properly.

This condition prevails in just all the forts in Maharashtra. Shivaji Maharaj built forts, more than 350 of them, at very strategic places. But, alas, we failed to keep these marvelous pieces of history alive. The restoration work that is seen in some forts, Shivneri, for example, seems to be out of sync, it does not match the original aesthetics or color combination and looks too much cosmetic. Even the tourists who visit these forts have a large chunk of blame to accept, as they come at these historical places to enjoy their holidays and weekends. The walls of these forts are scribbled with all and sundry names. Forts are not understood, very few care to taken assistance of guides, if they are available, or any reference material to study the fort or its importance. At Raigad fort, we found that the very seat where Shivaji Maharaj was coronated, youths climbed up with shoes and chappals to take group photos and selfies. How insulting is that?

Contrast this with the upcoming huge monument costing Rs.3600 crores. From the video which is circulating in the social media (if it is to be believed), the monument would be magnanimous. I do not oppose a monument, per se, for this great king. In fact, i strongly believe that we as Indians have failed to take this noble king to the world. A king who ranked second to none. However, would it not be have been proper, if we would have shown that much care for the original monuments that are lying without care. If, we really loved and adored this great king, we would not have left these forts in the condition that they are right now. It looks hypocritical, short visioned plan, to build a huge monument, when the originals are left to fend for themselves.

Forts are a great treasure of past. If they are properly developed, proper infrastructure is created, awareness is created, it can become living source of inspiration to coming generation. It will also assist the locals around the fort in generating some revenue through tourism. We are blessed to have so many forts, including sea forts, but, for our apathy.

Late Shri Ninadji Bedekar, renowned historian used to tell a story about his trip to Great Britain. He inquired with the locals why they did not have a monument for their great Prime Minister Winston Churchill. The reply he received was Churchill rests in our heart, we do not need a monument.  It seems, we failed to keep Shivaji Maharaj in our hearts, atleast the political breed, for they are not as visionary as their King was.