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February 16, 1998


'I know what you have done, you bastard. You just wait...'

Savera Someshwar in Kanakapura

It was to be a day of discovery -- a day when I learnt how to hang my head in shame because I was an Indian.

Kanakapura -- one of India's largest constituencies -- went to the polls on Monday, to select its member of Parliament to the country's 12th Lok Sabha. The main competition was between the Janata Dal's H D Kumaraswamy and Congressman Dr D Premachandra Sagar.

In booth number 601, polling station in-charge Jaiprakash claims not to have noticed Bharatiya Janata Party worker Krishna Mohan accompany a woman voter to the polling desk and put the mark on her ballot paper.

"I will take note of your complaint, madam; we shall be more careful," he says.

Free and fair ballot? Not a snowball's chance in hell, I would say. Especially since BJP workers were distributing free lunch to the police personnel on duty, and to anyone else who looked like s/he held some kind of official post. This, just outside booths 601 and 602, which have been declared sensitive by the Election Commission.

Dominantly displayed EC instructions banning soliciting of votes within a hundred yards of the booth are blatantly ignored. No voter is able to enter the polling station without being accosted by drunken party workers demanding that the vote be cast in favour of their candidate.

Oh, yes. They were drunk -- to the extent that their eyes were bloodshot and they reeked of liquor. Some of them were unable to even walk steadily. This, despite the fact that prohibition laws have been clamped on the state 48 hours before the election.

Free and fair election? You better not bet on it.

In Ramanagaram, almost the entire male population was drunk, roaming the streets, sozzled. In polling booth number 133, a woman voter (number 684) had to return without casting her vote because that particular number had already voted. I don't know if she was the original voter who had lost her fundamental right to some fake. I don't know if she was a bogus voter sent in by an interested party. I don't even know if she would have been allowed to vote under some other number if I had not been there. All I know is that she went away muttering that someone had stolen her vote.

In Bombay, we get an official intimation from the EC with our voter number that we have to produce before we are allowed to vote. Here, voter numbers are either presented on torn scraps of paper, or orally.

In a nearby village, a man lay unconscious in his own vomit. He was drunk. The others gathered around to look and to laugh. No one bothered to pick him up.

Outside booth number 21, located in yet another village, a jeep stands guard. The passengers, obviously not from the village, are keeping a strict watch on the proceedings. Helping them are a group of villagers -- again drunk. And never mind the EC's instruction that no one should be allowed to loiter near polling stations.

In another town, a JD worker is threatening a voter who has just stepped out of a polling station.

"I know what you have done, you bastard. You just wait..." His voice trails as he spots us; suddenly he is disgustingly solicitous, asking if he could offer us something to eat.

In another village, a fracas seems to be on the brink of erupting between various party workers. They see us; suddenly there is pin-drop silence and vacant stares.

Some of the booths in Kanakapura are so remote that untoward incidents could take place there and no one would know. Booths number 119 and 119-A are at the end of a rough mud track. The local men are drunk and enter the polling booths at will -- apparently to 'monitor' the proceedings. Security? Two police constables armed with lathis!

There were other areas, other polling booths, where elections were taking place in a fair and peaceful manner. Like booths number 89/603 and 89/604. Only one voter was being allowed in at a time and the police seemed fairly vigilant.

Eventually, Kanakpura will report that the polling process was peaceful, with a 69 to 80 per cent cent voter turnout.

But fair polls? I think it will take another century for that. If we are lucky, that is.

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