Back From Deulbari
Elections as Shock-Absorbent
The result of 16th General Parliamentary election 2014 of India can be depicted as a string of surprises not only for the Congress-led UPA, non-UPA parties and seasoned politicians but also for a commonsensical notions about contemporary Indian polity. The Congress did not face such an humiliating defeat since Independence as they had failed to reach the 10 percent of the total 543 parliamentary seats which would have marked them as the main opposition party of the 16th Loksabha. The brute majority earned by Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and two third majority obtained by BJP-led NDA had revealed the end of coalition politics temporarily, caste equations and regional diversities as well. Verdict 2014 has given a serious jolt to this facile view and shown the danger of Hindutva, the hidden agenda of the Sangh Parivar.
Keeping aside the theoretical debates of this 16th general Parliamentary election let us look into the experience gathered while conducting the election in a booth of West Bengal. It was a fine morning of 11th of May, 2014. The mercury was rising gradually with every passing moment. The vote campaign for the last phase (9th) of 16th Loksabha Poll had already subsided in the afternoon of 10th May. This correspondent was destined to Deulbari Uttamchand F P school of Deulbari Gram Panchayet, a tiny backward village of South 24 Parganas approaching Sundarbans to conduct election in a booth (booth no 190 ) as a second polling officer. This tiny village falls under 129-Kultali (Sc) Assembly Segment of 19-Joynagar Parliamentary Constituency. Also along wih me, there were Subhasis Adhikary, an assistant teacher of Gosaba's Battali Bangabharati Vidyayatan, as presiding officer, Bijoy Krishna Dutta, lab attendant, Sarsuna College as 1st polling officer and Indrajit Halder, technician, CSIR-Central Glass and Ceramic Research Institute, as 3rd polling officer. The order of appointment for poll duties was issued by Santanu Basu, IAS, District Election officer and District Magistrate of South 24 Parganas. But the Supreme Court has already given its judgement that the college teachers should not be alloted poll duties. How can a part-time college teacher who is highly qualified having Ph.D, national and international publications of research books, journals and presented papers in the national and international seminars and symposiums be given such a duty where Supreme Court has clearly given its verdict? I was reluctant to accept the offer, however, with the advice of my friends and well wishers, I preferred to gather an experience of this Parliamentary election on the spot.
As per the instruction of Santanu Basu we reached Nimpith Ramkrishna Vidyabhavan at about 10:45 A.M on 11th May. There was tremendous rush in the 8:05 Sealdah- Lakshikantapur local, in the next train 9:08 Sealdah-Namkhana local we managed to board the train. The co-passengers were returning from their places of work either from the nearby districts or from other states only to exercise their franchise to ensure their democratic rights. Little wonder the desire to exercise their franchise is only to uphold their citizenship in this largest democratic country of this subcontinent.
We registered our presence in the given counter no. 10 in the Vidyabhavan premises and collected our EVM and other necessaries required for conducting the election. It took another few hours to board a minibus with two other team members. It required more time as we had to report to state police or paramilitary forces at 'police tagging' within the premises who would be with us as escorts. There was tremendous chaos within the premises and there was unlimited sound pollution as well as air pollution (10-15 horse power five generators simultaneously were in motion ). Anyhow at about 5:30 P.M we reached Deulbari through Jamtala. From there we availed two auto rickshaws piled through brick-built three to four feet widened road. A local guide slipped from our auto to the crop field and anyhow he got up immediately. After 6 P.M we reached our polling station.
Paramilitary forces were already stationed there. Deulbari Uttamchand F P school has two buildings—One is of brick built house where 189 polling station was scheduled and ours 190 polling station is located in a half brick-built house with asbestos at the roof top. There was no electricity, no benches, only one chair with a table for the presiding officer, no generator, only kerosene lamp, single latrine, no bath room. The villagers somehow managed four high benches for polling officers and polling agents. While we were approaching towards our destination we did not see any brick-built houses, only mud houses with tiles or asbestos at top or thatching houses. Most of the houses were affected with Aila Cyclone. The demolished houses now again had been built up without the help of the state aid. There is allegation that the state government failed to utilize Aila fund which was sanctioned by the previous UPA govt. There is Matla river nearby. Royal Bengal Tigers invade off and on the village locality for which recently the river bank has been fenced with aluminium wire-nets. The village economy depends solely on agriculture that is on mono-crop paddy grown once in a year depending on monsoon. The villagers try to grow vegetables but that is insufficient. There are migrant labourers too who go to the nearby districts of West Bengal or other states to maintain their livelihood. The villagers are very simple, honest, co-operative and commited. There is no communal tension as Hindu-Muslim communities live harmoniously.
We worked up to 12 night with kerosene lamp and had sumptuous dinner with egg curry and potato fry. Next day at about 4 A.M we got up and lined up for evacuation and bathing. Within 5:30 A.M we started our work in the polling station and in the meantime the voters had already lined up. After finishing mock poll (which started at 6:15 a.m.) in the presence of RSP, SUCI(C) and AITMC polling agents we became ready to conduct the original poll. There was no proper Identity card of a BJP agent properly signed by the candidate himself or by his election agent, we placed the problem before the house. They gave their consent to allow him to work as a BJP agent of that polling station. Such a common understanding and tolerance must be a teaching for us. At about 7:05 AM we started polling and the process continued up to 6 PM without break. In our polling station there were 741 voters of which 672 turned out which showed 90.68% vote cast and the other booth No. 189 adjoining to ours having 550 voters showed 78% turn out.
We reached DCRC at Nimpith at about 9:30 PM and finished our job at 1:30 AM in the next day (13.5.2014). While returning from Nimpith, certain points were haunting my mind. People of lndia have still tremendous faith in Parliamentary democracy. They are very much conscious about their right to exercise their franchise. They can change any equation of the so-called contesting parties if they are allowed to exercise their franchise free and fare. In this tiny village of Sundarbans literacy never touches 50 percent whereas global average is 84 percent. India's literacy rate has grown from 12 percent at Independence to 74.04 percent in 2011. There is also huge gender disparity in India's literacy rate; 82.14 percent of India's males are literate. The corresponding figure for women is 65.46 percent. Although women comprise, more than 49 percent of voters of this biggest democracy. They are deprived of representing in the Parliamentary processes where only 10 percent represent the Parliament. The picture in other areas of our democratic processes regarding women representation is same. There is no road, no brick built houses, no shops, no market, no electricity, no primary health centre in this area. A few families have the rare resources to purchase solar cells. The agriculture too is very much undeveloped. In the village one or two shallow tube wells are there for drinking water and even news papers do not reach the village. In spite of all those odds and deprivation the villagers still believe in Parliamentary Democracy as it has tremendous shock absorbing capacity which is lacking in India’s neighbouring countries.
Vol. 46, No. 52, Jul 6 - 12, 2014