Rediff Logo News Rediff Hotel Reservations Find/Feedback/Site Index
November 25, 1998


'The new voting machine has brought more enthusiastic voters'

E-Mail this report to a friend

Vaihayasi P Daniel and Archana Masih in Bhopal

November 25 was a historic day.

The mazdoor who pushes a loaded thela cart all day for a few rupees… the sabziwallah who sells those rather expensive Rs 40 per kilo tomatoes from dawn to dusk… the simple housewife who runs her tiny household till well after sunset… has never come into contact with electronic technology.

On election day in Bhopal, in the polling booth, they came face to face with The Voting Machine… A strange electronic instrument with several blue buttons and symbols that emitted a high pitched noise once the vote was cast.

Reactions were aplenty.

A group of giggling girls emerged from a Shyamala Hills polling booth, a locality of Bhopal North, and exclaimed amongst themselves, “Bahut mazaa aya. What fun.”

At a voting booth in the densely populated and old Muslim neighbourhood of Kazi Camp, a burkha- clad elderly woman stared dumbly at the white monster. Shouted her menfolk, still waiting in line to vote, “Neela khadda mein ungli dalo! (Put your finger in the blue hole). “

Said a polling officer at the Shri Digamabar Jain High School, in Chowk, Old Bhopal, “There has been a very good turnout. People came to see the the new tarkeeb of casting a vote. The new voting machine has brought more enthusiastic voters. Many just want to experience what this is.”

Added Pradeep Verma, an officer at the same booth, “I notice that women always ask a lot of questions about the machine before voting. They need some assurances or guidance. But quite elderly women figure the machine without any queries. This process would be even quicker if people simply showed their voting cards and went to the machine.”

Another man pressed his button a dozen times and the officer outside kept insisting, “You did not press it,” much to the bafflement of the voter

In another part of Old Bhopal handicapped Dinesh arrived to cast his vote. He slid across the floor with great speed and declared that he had no difficulty in casting a vote on the electronic machine. “I just reached up from the floor and pressed the button.”

But Kausar Siddiqui’s aunt was upset. “She pressed the wrong button. She is a bit elderly and when she came she told us that she just pressed the first button,” explains Kausar.

The idea of a voting machine was mooted by the former and rather colourful chief election commissioner, T N Seshan (incidentally a name everyone is familiar with in these parts). Says state Election Commissioner A K Vijayavargiya, “He must have seen it somewhere on his travels.” Seshan worked on developing and introducing these machines in Indian polling booths.

Priced at Rs 10,000 a piece and manufactured by the Electronic Corporation of India, the machine has two units. One is called the ballot unit and the other is called the controlling unit. The ballot unit is positioned in the enclosed area for the voter or matdata, while the controlling unit is in the hands of the chunav pradhanadikari or polling officer.

After completing the initial formalities, including the ink-staining and the identity verification, the voter steps up to the ballot unit. When s/he reaches this tiny booth – a table with a crude cardboard shield on it – the officer activates the ballot unit. The voter can then press the button of his choice corresponding with the party symbol and – presto -- with a beep his vote is cast and registered in the controlling unit.

The controlling unit can tally the number of votes cast during the day. For the counting stage another set of staff have been given training on how to utilise the machines the votes of various parties. While the polling officers were given training in four sessions.

The controlling unit has space for only 16 candidates. But four controlling units can be used together in one booth bringing the number of candidates that can be handled to a maximum of 64. Not more. It can count up to 9,999 votes only, and operates on a battery.

The entire voting process – from the moment the voter entered the polling booth till he left – took 60 seconds or less. Polling officers – who incidentally are paid about Rs 300 to Rs 400 depending on the district (once upon a time they received no extra remuneration) -- were rather happy with the new arrangement. Says a lady polling officer at Kazi Camp, “Our hands used to hurt at the end of the day from folding the papers and pushing them into the ballot boxes.”

Voting in Bhopal – which has fielded the BJP’s Ramesh Sharma and the Congress’ Aarif Aqeel from South Bhopal and Congressman P C Sharma and the BJP’s Suhas Pradhan from North Bhopal -- was very peaceful. Folks, turned out in their crisp Sunday best, emerged with their entire kutumbh (family) to elect their leaders. Dasharath and Shakuntala Samundri beamed broadly as they exited from the booth. “Barah aasan hain. Hamara door se chalke aate hain. To agar idhar line lagti to hame aur der lagti.

Out at J P Nagar, near the Union Carbide plant, the news was that the Bhopal gas victims and their families would not vote. “That Jabbar of the Bhopal Gas Victim Association, had announced in the papers that we should not vote. The whole of Bhopal is voting so what difference does it make if we don’t vote. But there are 100,000 of us.”

There were more party flags flying and voting halchal in J P Nagar than anywhere else. Said a youth, “Oh yes, we are voting. For both parties. Both Sunil Dutt and Vinod Khanna have been through here. And the candidates too.”

Even on voting day public opinion seems to be flip-flopping between the parties. Says a 2 IC (the short form for second in charge!) policeman in South Bhopal very knowingly, “This time MP will go to the Congress. It is because of this price rise. People earn so little how can they afford these prices.”

Says Sita Ram, an autorickshaw driver: “The Congress stands a better chance this time. The price rise has really hit us. And besides P C Sharma is a very good man. We call him a devta. When our houses were being torn down he came. He always comes to people’s help.

However, Narmada Prasad has invested his vote with the BJP, “I have always voted Congress. This time I thought I would try the BJP. For a change.”

Assembly Election '98

Tell us what you think of this report