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Inside an election's nerve centre
Pankaj Upadhyay in Chamba |
February 25, 2003 21:23 IST
Barely 50 metres from his office, Ambika Soni, political secretary to Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, is taking the Prem Kumar Dhumal-led Bharatiya Janata Party government apart. The noise is deafening.
But inside Deputy Commissioner, Chamba, Rahul Anand's centrally heated office, Soni's voice is barely audible. This is a huge room with several rows of chairs for people who seek an audience with Anand.
"How big is the rally?" Anand asks Nayab Tehsildar (elections) Om Prakash without shifting his eyes from his silver-grey Compaq Notebook. "Not very big, sir," replies Prakash.
"Arre inka kuch karaiye (Do something for him)," Anand gestures towards me, taking his eyes off the screen for a split second. He wants Om Prakash to arrange my travel with a polling party to a logistically difficult booth -- there are plenty in every constituency in Chamba.
But there is a problem. The polling party for the most difficult booth, Tepa in Rajnagar, left last night. The nearest road-head from Tepa is 18 km away. And it rained heavily last night. There were reports of landslides too. Om Prakash has not yet received the arrival report from Tepa.
We take the deputy commissioner's leave and move to Om Prakash's office in the adjoining block. This is a modest room. An old wooden table, a swing-back chair, few more chairs for visitors and two sofas. A small angeethi keeps the room warm.
This is the nerve centre for elections in Chamba district -- control room for polling parties' movement and dispatch of polling material. It is in this room reports from all booths in Chamba will be received on the polling day and forwarded to the capital Shimla and then to Delhi.
At the head of this nerve centre is Om Prakash. And he knows that at every moment he is being watched by Rahul Anand -- that Compaq Notebook is a powerful machine.
Young, fresh-out-of-college boys scurry around to put servers, dedicated phone lines and computers in place. Om Prakash's assistants are bringing in an unending stream of papers to his attention. He signs some, marks some and dumps others in a corner. "These can be handled later," he tells his mild-mannered assistant, Chauhan, pointing to a bunch.
The phone rings constantly. Shimla gets priority. Other stations are handled with courtesy, a dash of personal touch and some humour.
There are observers who need to be put up in circuit houses. There are technicians who need to be kept ready for any eventuality. "This is the first time we are using electronic voting machines…I am a little nervous," smiles Om Prakash.
There are four constituencies -- Chamba, Bhatiyat, Banikhet, Rajnagar -- going to the polls in Chamba district on February 26. Polling in one constituency -- Bharmour -- has been postponed for June following heavy snowfall in the area.
Chamba district, being one of the farthest from the seat of power in Shimla, is the most underdeveloped. Each constituency here has at least half-a-dozen logistically difficult polling booths. Heavy rains last night have only made matters worse.
Though Prakash keeps himself updated at every moment on the road conditions, information is not always reliable.
He will be probably able to sleep peacefully only after receiving the last arrival report, which could be as late as midnight.
"No peace of mind for us till the polling day. You come in June we will do some booths in Pangi valley [in Bharmour constituency]. Those are really difficult booths. I have been there once, but love to do it again," he beams.
But before that there are arrival reports to collect, phone lines to put in place, and lots and lots of praying to do so that EVMs do not misbehave...