The queue of voters at a poll booth set up in a makeshift tent
The queue of voters at a poll booth set up in a makeshift tent

Mumbai : Elections can be an exhilarating affair for political parties who stay ensconced in air-conditioned comfort and a day of excitement for voters. But not for people mandatorily selected for the national duty of conducting smooth elections.

Ask any civic body employee, govt or bank official, college lecturer or university professor and they will tell you that the very task of being appointed for election duty brings a sense of doom and not elation as is the general myth.

In fact, very little is known about the grit and grime these people who are the silent face behind any election, have to undergo while conducting elections. It is almost like a military drill where everything is a must and disobedience invites imprisonment or a trip to the police station. It entails a gruelling training sessions which stretch to many days. Most importantly, it even causes family problems for the spouse and the children of the person selected for the awesome duty.

On October 15, Maharashtra’s Big Day, I had the privilege of having a ringside view of what goes on during the course of a gruelling polling day. My wife, a senior college professor, was made presiding officer of a polling booth in Kalyan.

The very selection of the polling centre caused a lot of heartburn and shock to my wife, apart from the fact that she had to lead the team. For a person staying in Borivali, Kalyan is almost a distant land. But since there was no option, she asked me to accompany her.

That is from where the ordeal started. First we had to hire a vehicle to reach the polling booth at the unearthly time of 5 am (at least for journalists). Then after reaching there, the problem arose of finding good drinking water and toilet facilities which are a rarity in any govt setup in a given situation. Then once she located her booth in a tent, she found that there no fan there. Only a small ceiling fan which did nothing to dry her sweat in the sweltering heat. Even though the polling station was located in a decent building, the booth strangely was put up in a makeshift tent. To make matters worse, her zonal officer, her immediate senior, was not properly trained for the job and was not of particular help.

The most tiring and excruciating aspect, at the end of the day, entailed carrying the machines (EVMs) and the ballot boxes to the collection centre which was a considerable distance away.

As French philosopher Gael Garcia Bernal has said “democracy can change a lot of things, but we’re being fooled because democracy is not the election. We’ve been taught that democracy is having elections. And it isn’t. Elections are the most horrendous aspect of democracy. It’s the most mundane, trivial, disappointing, dirty aspect.” I say rightly so.

But still, one wonders if better facilities were provided to the reluctant polling staff, this feeling of doom could be converted into a positive feeling. Mr Modi, please take note.

Nelson Pereira

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