“What are your chances of going to South Africa?” I asked my new colleague Johnny Button. “But, Harry, said he to me are you referring to IPL, what shall I do for IPL when our work is in the Election Commission, jurisdiction?” “Arrey, as a support for the cricketers and the league members and owners who cannot vote now, what else”. “Not a chance now, said Johnny, the commission won’t go against the Home Minister, Mr. Chidambaram. He has refused protection to the Indian Premier League Cricket tournament coinciding with the Lok Sabha Elections that were around the corner”. “Just imagine had the elections been transferred to South Africa, wouldn’t that have been great. Both of us could have toured a foreign country. The voter turnout too would not have deviated greatly from the average 50% that India has been clocking all these years since independence. Only had it been SA this time, the populace that could have come would have been the crème de la crème, the wine and cheese crowd of society, who think it is rather beneath them to vote in their own country”.
Johnny started laughing and in his curious accent said, Harry Pittie you are one piece of work.In this country anything was possible, even outsourcing elections and for once we could have been near the perfumed crowd. Normally to our lot was the one that smelt of sewers, slums and stale sweat and if lucky then some talcum powder. As government minions, no one could truly fault us for wishful thinking about South Africa, it is our national passtime to weave fantasies.
I pondered over the time when I had been born in Karnataka, Mangalore and was an agnostic. Though where I originally came from was christian dominated. I had been posted for service in Maharashtra from the day I was chosen & had seen numerous elections may they be for Lok Sabha, State assembly or even the Zilla Parishad. After 40 years of service in better locations I had been transferred for service in mofussil areas. The government had inducted the new batch amongst who was my friend Johnny. Sharing the same dim lit, not very spic and span yet very spacious rooms in the University’s department & being next to each other we had got talking and become friends. He asked me questions and like any senior colleague was eager to share experience that invariably began with “Those were the days”. The cities are always better to be deployed to as the security is better and even the schools where the elections are held are so much different. The worst are the interior villages of the state. Just the last elections, I had been posted to Gadhchiroli, a Naxalite infested area and had been held hostage. Luckily they only stuffed a lot of pre-stamped ballot papers and dumped us outside the counting booth. Johnny listening goggle eyed remarked “Wow, lucky they didn’t hurt you”. “Yeah, but the whole experience was terrible. They were pretty rough on us.Hence this year the commission is thinking about giving us additional security. You are lucky; you would be deputed to only cities or good towns because you are new, those that have almost uninterrupted power too.You would even have a fan above your head. He tried to pull a sad face for my benefit but did not succeed and sheepishly smiled.
That time, I continued, I was not happy as was delivering a deliberately manipulated result. But what can one do against the Naxalites especially in rigged elections? But even then I never lost faith in democracy. Aren’t we the living symbols of it by being a part of this department? Sagely he agreed with me. When voters voted it made me feel proud of being a part of the largest democracy the world has seen, even though half of the voting populace never comes. Those lured by the attraction of money, food or blankets are the majority who take the effort. The only change that had happened over the years was the ballot papers had gone longer with the list of candidates increasing to some ridiculous levels. The voters are likely to see the names of many of the candidates for the first time when inside the booth. It was shameful this apathy and lack of awareness.Very little can be done too when the laws are in place but not implemented.It has led to a criminalization of politics and a lot of undesirable elements having their names in the candidature. I told Johnny that the one time I really felt privileged working was when T.N.Seshan was the election commissioner. Here was a man who truly made the corrupt politicos toe the line of the code.He was unafraid and showed everyone the book and the law. No one in the sensitive election times had the guts to oppose him. He was the most powerful person during his time. Unfortunately the public adulation went to his bald head and instead of retiring on his laurels he stepped into the murky waters of politics himself. Here he was well and truly trounced. Positional power unfortunately doesn’t translate into popular votes. Those were the days. The men who succeeded him to the EC post tried very hard to emulate Seshan but they were pale copies and did not have much impact or create respect for themselves.
I heard footsteps outside our room. They stopped just outside the door. Today was the day when we would be taken out and prepared. On cue the doors were thrown open and light rushed into the room, so also air that dispelled the dust long gathered on our bodies. I would now be cleaned, have the dent removed from my side where the Naxalites had hit me and get a fresh coat of green paint, some oil on my slider locks & hinges . They would be checked. My 20 gauge sides would be checked along with the 16 gauge face lid that housed my fittings.The slit would get filed smooth for rust. Raghu, the minder came in picked me up and said to his assistant "Chal pakad re ye Hari Peti (hold this green box) yeh repairing ke liye bhejni hai ( has to be sent for repair), these are going to Pandharpur. I was blessed; I would be in the divine lord’s town, during this election. "Aur woh button waaley lab me bhej de" Johnny was picked rather delicately in comparison to me, he was an EVM (Electronic Voting Machine) and he would be sent to the lab for checking dusting and programming. I breathed easier & better now, the elections are coming, this was certainly our time in the sun.