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|October 4, 1999||
The Rediff Election Special/ A Ganesh Nadar
'This is happening because we are Muslims'
I have seen elections in many places, but never one like this. All borders between districts were sealed. Looked lie all vehicular traffic in Lucknow has been banned. Only the cops were moving freely.
Lucknow has four urban assemblies and one rural constituency, Mahona. It has only one town in the entire assembly. The town also goes by the name of Mahona. The drive out of Lucknow was beautiful at 0700 hours.
Overweight men, accompanied by equally fat wives, were walking leisurely. The parks were already full, with children playing cricket. The sun was lost in the clouds and the breeze chilly. Autumn was bringing down the leaves gently.
Everything was perfect except for the cops.
The cops were everywhere. People were already waiting patiently to vote. The Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress and the Samajwadi Party areas were full of people looking for voting slips. Itaunja [a village in Lucknow constituency] was also voting. This is on the main road to Delhi. Then you turn right to go to Mahona.
Mahona town was quiet. Sunday normally is their market day. The town centre was crowded. People were chatting happily. The cops appeared in full strength, led by the circle inspector of Bakshibala. "Either you vote or go back home, don't gather," he screamed.
The crowd dispersed slowly. The cops got angry. "Arre, can't you hear us? You want our danda to speak to you?"
The cops started chasing the men into their homes. One man was chased right into his house and then the danda came down hard. The wife screamed: "This is my devar and this is his house.''
"Dhadi nauch denge. Undher raho [We will cut off his beard. Stay inside]," said the cops and came out.
The cops were freely abusing the boys they spotted on the road. Again the lathi came down. One man's hand was fractured. Another got his bottom lined by an angry stripe.
Former Bihar governor Salim Yunus' younger brother Eliasbhai came out of his house slowly. He was an old man. The circle inspector had left with his goons. Eliasbhai started screaming at the cops. "How dare you hit my poor villagers! Where is the law which says that we cannot stand in our own village where we please?"
The cops retorted, "We did not do anything. You can ask that presswallah. The flying squad was the culprit. Why are you shouting at us?"
Eliasbhai was livid. He warned the villagers, 'If somebody wants to vote, let him. Don't resort to violence. The cops are looking for an excuse to bash us up."
One man muttered, "This is happening because we are Muslims."
We left the Muslim area to a Hindu one. Here workers of the BJP and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh were busy sorting out voting slips.
"We could not distribute them house to house because of the boycott. We are giving them to people who come here," they said.
Enquiries in that booth revealed that of the 1800-odd voters, only 14 had voted. The time was now 0900 hours.
At the main chowk in the town, I saw Superintendent of Police Magindra Singh and his men. He left after checking the only booth where votes were being cast. The other two booths were sleeping. The inspector there warned the crowds: "If you don't want to vote, fine, don't vote. But don't collect around here -- what have you got against these officers?"
As the day grew older, Lucknow came alive. The Muslims were out in strength. You noticed them because they dressed differently. A lady and her daughter moved from one party desk to another till they found their names. A man told me: "Don't think that the most crowded table means most votes. People here take their slips from whichever party that gives it to them. They will vote for who they please."
In other places around the country these help-tables are far apart. Each party keeps its distance from the others. In Lucknow it is different. All parties have their tables in a single line in one place. In Nayi Basti, the Congress and the BJP had men manning these tables. The BSP and the SP had women doing the same. Naturally, women voters, particularly the Muslims, gravitated to the tables where women were sitting.
Uttar Pradesh Chief Electoral Officer Noor Mohammad was a soft-spoken man. He was aghast to hear that two of my colleagues were stranded between Amethi and Rae Bareilly because the district borders had been sealed. He immediately faxed a request to the district magistrates of Rae Bareilly and Amethi that they should allow our journalists to return to Lucknow.
Then the phone rang. One man complained that the BJP women's wing had entered slums and told the people that they should only press the first button [of the electronic voting machine], if they pressed any other they would get a shock. The electoral officer was very upset. He immediately called the district magistrate, Lucknow, and told him that this was very unethical. The magistrate told him that they could not do much but promised to send his men there.
"That won't help," said the electoral officer. "I have a better idea of damage control."
He called the All India Radio. "Mr Rai, there are some people spreading rumours. I want you to put this in your 1 pm news bulletin if it is possible: the EVM is charged with a battery that is equivalent to the strength of a pencil torch. You can punch in any button, there is no chance of a shock.'"
The BJP state office was quiet in the afternoon. There was more life in Atalji's campaign headquarters a little distance away. Many people were relaxing. There was Muthu from Tanjore in Tamil Nadu who said that he had helped the BJP in 15 constituencies around the country and that he travelled on his own expenses.
Outside the Congress office, some people were having tea and snacks. Suddenly the cops started stopping all traffic. Someone said the PM's convoy was coming. I was excited. I pulled out my camera and stood ready to click. One cop looked at me in total disgust.
"What are you doing?" he asked.
I said I wanted to click a snap.
"I can see you are from the press, but why do you want to click the CM?" he asked.
"CM! I thought it was the PM who was coming!"
"The PM voted at 0815 hours and left for Delhi. This is the CM coming. You want to click?"
I said NO and walked away. The man certainly hated Kalyan Singh.
At 1700 hours, the BJP state headquarters was crowded. The special protection group was out in strength. I guessed that Chief Minister Kalyan Singh was inside. He was. Sitting in an air-conditioned room under the portrait of a very young Vajpayee. Next to Madanlal Khurana, Kalyan Singh looked very dark.
Khurana was in a good mood and kept laughing. He explained to us that capturing a booth that had an EVM was impossible. It took 12 seconds for one vote to register. First a green light, then you vote, then a whistle accompanied by a red light, and then the polling officer has to press another button before the next vote.
A journalist pointed out that you could still poll 300 votes in an hour. Khurana laughed, "You can't capture a booth and stay inside for an hour."
Kalyan Singh wanted to know if this was a press conference. He was assured that it was not but only an informal gathering. He seemed to relax. "10 minutes," he declared.
How many seats will you win?
Kalyan Singh: "85 till they count." He then announced that in Balia, Chandra Sekhar's constituency, there was no booth capturing and no goondaagiri. He emphasised that it was a free and fair election. He was positive that the NDA would be the single largest pre-poll alliance and the President would have to invite Vajpaeeji.
"This time it will be a five-year government. We are heading towards a two-party system," he said. "From Nehru's time they have called us fundamentalists and now we are acceptable."
And why was the BJP going to loose seats in UP? He blamed caste for that. It was still an issue in Bihar and UP.
What was the difference between the Congress and the BJP -- both projected a supreme leader, both had defects, both had their Vaghelas and Sakshi Maharajs...
"We have values while the Congress has none," came the reply, "We are swadeshi and they are videshi. If you want to make Sonia the prime minister why did we have the Quit India Movement? Why did so many people die for freedom? Why did they spend most of their lives in jail? Sad day if Sonia becomes the PM. It will be a humiliating day for all of us. She is welcome to be Congress president but not the prime minister."
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