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Inside UP's election war room

Last updated on: February 15, 2012 16:53 IST

Inside UP's election war room

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Saisuresh Sivaswamy in Lucknow

All the behind-the-scenes action in the Uttar Pradesh elections is taking place in a non-descript room in Lucknow, reports Saisuresh Sivaswamy

As the people of Uttar Pradesh step out in 56 constituencies to vote in the third round of assembly elections, the whole drama is being monitored from a nondescript room in an equally nondescript building in a similarly nondescript area of Lucknow.

"Welcome to my war room," says Umesh Sinha, the affable state election commissioner who has, so far, pulled off what seems an impossible task: a record voter turnout, plus trouble-free polling.

"This exercise has been planned well in advance, and for the last one month my team members have been training in this operation," says Sinha.

At first glance, it is a daunting exercise, involving some half a million personnel across the large state. "We have a directory of the people in every village, and for the last one month my team has been asking about their welfare, if they are facing any problems in the village, if someone was trying to threaten them or offer inducements."

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Inside UP's election war room

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After having thus struck a chord with the voters, on Wednesday the officials reached the war room at 6 am to start monitoring the constituencies.

The war-room runs on reporting from the field, of which there are several layers. One part of the reporting comes from the district election officers, zonal magistrates and observers. Then there is an SMS-based reporting system by which anyone can inform the poll officials of the goings-on in their area on poll day.

And then, there is the crowning glory, live streaming from the polling booths which Sinha and his team are constantly monitoring, something that is being tried out for the first time on this scale, says the state election commissioner.

"At any report of trouble, our team is geared to attend to it, right away," says Sinha, crediting the war room for the peaceful conduct of the first two rounds of polling.

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Inside UP's election war room

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His team, says Sinha, is also geared to sort out any glitches in the electronic voting machines, of which he says there have thankfully been few so far.

The mission, says another official, is after having spent more than a month on publicity designed to shake the voters out of their customary apathy, the Election Commission cannot be seen to let them down on voting day, and hence this mammoth effort to keep tabs on polling stations.

Even as we speak, the war room, filled with around 40 eager beavers around a long, oval table, all fielding phone calls and taking down messages, resembles a military general's lair.

There is a large screen on one wall on which is beamed the webcast from polling booths, television news channels are being monitored in one corner, and there are cups of coffee being plied around the table to keep spirits high.

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Photographs: Saisuresh Sivaswamy/Rediff.com

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Inside UP's election war room

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"On one hand, we have provided the voters with a safe and secure voting process, by providing multiple layers of security, and on the other we are careful that this doesn't put off the people, we have tried to make the process voter-friendly," says Sinha.

The exercise of enrolling new and young voters started one year ago, with some 130,000 booth-level officers visiting homes thrice to amend the voting list and enlist new voters.

Voter ID cards too were delivered to 98 per cent of the voters at their homes. Plus, voting slips were provided to the voters before polling day, inviting them to come and cast their vote.

Then there have been unusual initiatives like a 50-km human chain, 150-km human chain and a My Valentine, My Vote exercise to spread awareness.

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Photographs: Saisuresh Sivaswamy/Rediff.com

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Inside UP's election war room

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But this does not mean that the war-room operations don't have their share of problems. Web-casting, for one, suffers from poor connectivity, non-availability of proper infrastructure etc, restricting it to around 30 booths in each constituency.

And, naturally, all this comes at a cost, but Sinha shrugs it off as a "mere percentage" of world parameters. "All such intervention comes at a price, but at the end of the day you don't evaluate this in terms of costs incurred," he says.

Not when the result is the "world's best elections," as he calls them.

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