The Great Indian Election Exercise!
Columns, Over A Cup of Evening Tea

The Great Indian Election Exercise!

April 21, 2024

By Dr. K. Javeed Nayeem

Our general elections, undoubtedly the greatest political event, that we see every five years in our country, or maybe even across the world and which are supposed to keep our robust democracy alive and kicking, are underway. And, conducting them well enough, so that they meet the expectations of every one of us, is no mean feat, which is somehow accomplished by all those who are entrusted with this enormous task.

What is noteworthy and worth appreciating is the fact that, except for the dismally very few Babus who occupy the uppermost echelons of power in the administration, the gigantic field force that actually pulls off this great magic act on the battleground, is largely made up of very ordinary workers, hailing from almost all cadres, of all government departments, who are never hired or trained for this specific purpose.

Except for the very hurried and perfunctory familiarising that they are made to undergo over a couple of days, just a few days before the electoral wave takes over the country, not unlike a giant Tsunami, they have no special training to do what they manage to do, so  admirably well.

A few things never fail to impress or amuse me about our elections and how the field force copes with what is expected of them. What impresses me most is how patiently the members, of the small teams of election-duty workers, invariably endure great hardship, especially when they are posted to the remote and desolate rural reaches of our country, where no facilities exist to keep them at ease, let alone comfortable, at the places where they have to camp.

Stories abound of how the locals, compelled by their inherent compassion and appalled by the plight of their guests, try hard to make their task a little less painful. But there is a limit to the hospitality that they can extend or the kindness their guests can accept, because it is mandatory according to the election rule-book, for all workers on poll duty to stay glued to their stations round-the-clock, come rain or shine. They just cannot take their jobs lightly, if we have to reap the fruits of our rights, in the right measure!

And, what amuses me more than a little about our electoral exercise, is the drama these humble workers are sometimes forced to enact, while they are tasked with the responsibility of ensuring that the loads of cash, liquor and other goodies that are ‘reputed’ to play a pivotal role in deciding to a great extent, who is going to rule us for the next five years. I have put the word ‘reputed’ in inverted commas because, technically speaking, this accusation, however strong, is only hearsay. It is neither proved nor unproved and to believe it, or not to believe it, is left to us.

And, what I believe can be different from what you believe, which depends on which side of the fence we stand on! But I feel that this whole rather comic exercise of proving or disproving the existence of this so-called electoral malpractice is only a pain inflicted on the staff on duty, deputed on our roads, by day and by night.

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Very often, the rather very low limit of just fifty thousand rupees that a person is allowed to carry during election time, is very unfair and inconvenient. It puts travellers, tourists and families who have to hold weddings and other functions, at a great disadvantage. Not all payments can be made easily over online portals. And, nothing can have the reassurance of ready cash which can tide over any glitches in online transactions, which are all too common, despite the great advancements we have today. That is why I never do anything, like eating or staying at a hotel, where I may not be able to settle the bill digitally, without carrying on my person the cash necessary to make the payment. It is my reserve strategy to avoid inconvenience and embarrassment and it makes sound sense to me, irrespective  of what others may say.

Over the past couple of weeks, I have been travelling, both in and out of our State, a little more than what I normally do and my car has been subjected to dozens of stop and search exercises, the nature of which has only amused me. After being questioned, by Police personnel and election duty staff about where I have been travelling from and where I have been travelling to, I have been asked if I am in possession of more than the permissible limits of cash and gold, of both solid and liquid variety, to which I have always replied in the negative. This is, as if I would have replied in the positive if I had actually been an offender, which made me laugh every time I had to answer this query!

On a good many occasions I was asked very politely of course, to open the boot of my car and my suitcases and bags were prodded with a baton, as if it was magic wand that could sense whether what they contained was legal or illegal. On a few occasions my wife was asked, in a perceptibly much politer tone, to show the contents of her handbag which always comes out clean. This is because ever since the elections were announced, she had ensured that it is of a size insufficient to carry more than forty-nine thousand rupees!

But last week, late at night, when a lady election duty officer at a check-post on the State border, asked her to show the contents of her tiny wallet too, I turned to the armed Policeman deputed to protect her and asked him how his companion was hoping to find enough cash or gold in it, that could influence a voter to decide which button to press on polling day?

Without batting an eyelid and with the nicest smile I have ever seen on a Cop’s face, he told me that the lady was free to do her mathematics and he was there only to ensure that she could do it in complete safety, in the middle of the dark night! Unwilling to be made to look inexperienced, the poor lady in turn, sheepishly told me that she and her team had to satisfy the requirements of what they had been deputed to do, with every one of their actions being recorded by the overhead video camera.

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Once I was driving on the outskirts of the city on a dark, mid-summer night, when my car was stopped at an election check-post. When the boot was opened as expected, the Policemen and poll duty officers screamed in delight and asked me to step out of the driving seat and hand over the car keys to them. 

Puzzled, I complied without a protest and discovered to my horror that the boot of my car held two large cardboard crates labelled Director’s Special. They called the videographer who was dozing in the make-shift check-post and asked him to record the whole incident, which he started doing instantly, with great enthusiasm.

As I was protesting into the dazzling video lights that I was only a helpless victim of a well-planned conspiracy, my shock and anxiety turned to extreme relief and elation. That was because the Cops had now opened the crates and extracted what they expected to be liquor bottles, only to find that their prized catch turned out to be innocent bottles of packaged drinking water, under a famous surrogate name!

As realisation dawned on me and the mystery gradually unfolded, it was now time for me to have the last laugh. My son Adnan and his friends had organised a music concert the previous night and they had kept the leftover water bottles from the event, in my car which they had been using to run errands for it. I thanked my stars while the sleepy-eyed videographer cursed his fate and the Cops for disturbing his sleep over what turned out to be only much ado about nothing and a Midsummer Night’s Dream, completely gone wrong! That was when my heart melted. I handed over the entire cache to the disappointed Cops and told them that it was my gift to them to quench their thirst the next day, upon which every one of them shook hands with me and thanked me for my kindness.

But that was not all. In the typical suspicious trait of all those who wear khaki, one of them who continued to hold my hand, asked me whether it was not a deliberate prank I had played, to make a fool of them? I do not know how convinced he was, when I reassured him that I was too kind-hearted a soul to do something so unkind.  Well, Policemen can only be Policemen, instinctively suspicious and that’s what makes them good, at what they are supposed to do!

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