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.