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|November 25, 1998||
Electronic voting machines prove a hit in Jaipur
Amberish K Diwanji in Jaipur
They came, they saw, they voted. Not on a ballot paper with an ink stamp, for so long a symbol of the people's will, but the modern, slick, sophisticated way where all you do is press a button. One push and that's it!
The electronic voting machine, used for the first time on a trial basis in certain key constituencies, was a huge success with the voters in the 'lucky' constituencies.
The common refrain: it saves time and is much simpler.
At Jalebi Chowk, in Hawa Mahal constituency in the Pink City, Balvinder Sharma, 25, was all praise for the machine. "You just go in and press a button!" he said, adding, "Now that we have elections so frequently, these machines must be deployed for all polls."
Ishrat Begum, in her late thirties, said the voting machines should be used in all elections. "Earlier, there was this huge paper where it was difficult to find the name and symbol, then you had to stamp it, often smudging the paper and your hand with ink, then fold the big sheet six times over, and finally push it into the ballot box. The whole thing took so much time and effort. This is much simpler," she said.
In fact, the time saved is perhaps the machine's greatest asset. Wherever the EVMs were in operation, there were no queues. "I was in and out within half a minute," said Sita Kabra, an elderly woman. "This is the first time I have taken so little time. Usually, we are ready to stand for at least half an hour. Even signing your name and marking your finger are moving much faster."
Kabra's son Umesh, 24, was also impressed. "It is great!" he exulted. Asked whether he came to vote or to merely use the machine, he laughed, "I guess both."
Mohammad Aziz, 20, was less ambiguous. "I only voted because I wanted to see and use the machine. Who wants to vote? I did that just six months ago and what difference does it make anyway?" he said.
While earlier there was a fear that the machine may be too complicated for the uneducated masses -- that is why the trial run was only held in urban constituencies -- the impression now is that it is actually simpler to fathom than the paper. Various party activists were busy advising voters which button number to press (in serial order from the top). Thus, the Bharatiya Janata Party's was the first button, the Janata Dal's the second, the Congress third, followed by others.
"I just pressed button number three," said one fellow who looked pleased at having used a hi-tech gizmo.
Initial reports indicate a higher turnout in the constituencies where the EVMs were used, especially with youngsters keen to check them out. Which party the higher turnout benefits, only the results will tell.
Meanwhile, voting passed off peacefully in the state where a holiday was declared. The police were deployed in strength and their presence was palpable in Jaipur. Vigil was so strict that a jeep that still carried its party flags (campaigning ended on Monday) was stopped and prevented from proceeding until the flags and banners were all taken off.
In Jaipur, shops remained closed on the commercial M I Road, but were open in the walled city. In the morning, the crowds were comparatively thin, though voters were reported as early as 0700 hours when booths opened. Tourists had a disappointing day as the Hawa Mahal and the museum were closed.
Voters split on community, class lines
Voting seemed to have gone along communal and class lines. Muslims spoken to backed the Congress. And the Hindus were split along the wealth line. While the poor were with the Congress, the middle classes and traders were backing the BJP, confidently proclaiming that it would remain in power. At the very least, they insisted, Jaipur would not fall to the Congress.
"The price rise is no issue. Today onions are available at Rs 7 per kilo," claimed Ajit Singh, a BJP worker in Jaipur Rural constituency. "And we know each household in the locality, all of whom will definitely vote for us."
But the Congress was equally confident of capturing the city as well as the state. Said Ramesh Shrivastava, an activist who was helping voters find their names on the list, "We will win at least four of the seven seats in Jaipur, especially in the walled city, where the poor and Muslims dominate."
Interestingly, a BJP worker too admitted to having voted against his party. "In all these past eight years, no one bothered to hear me or my woes. They only remembered me before the election. Hopefully when all these ministers are out of power, they will treat us workers with more respect," he said, but requested that his name be not disclosed.
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