The day Dugheri’s class VII changed to polling booth number 69

The first vote pressed at 8 am sharp, 794 of 953 registered voters had cast their vote by 5 pm when the story wound up at this polling station in Gujarat’s Bhavnagar district


Brajesh Kumar | December 14, 2012

D-day at Dugheri: Some relax while waiting for their turn outside polling booth number 69, at the local primary school, on the first-phase polling in Gujarat on December 13.
D-day at Dugheri: Some relax while waiting for their turn outside polling booth number 69, at the local primary school, on the first-phase polling in Gujarat on December 13.

At 4 am, when they got up to get their act together for D-day, the polling party had little clue about the bright and sunny day that was to follow and that Dugheri would show up in numbers to give their thumbs-up to an idea called democracy.

It was, and they did.

Having reached the polling station, the primary school at Dugheri, the previous day (read “As Guj votes, a look at how polling booth is prepared”), the polling officials had hardly had any time to sleep — they had to get up early to convert one of the school’s classrooms into booth number 69. Unpacking the entire election material and arranging them in order for the polling took much of their time, said Suresh Bhatia, the presiding officer and in charge of the polling party.

“We could finish only at midnight,” he added, going about crossing the checklist he held.

Everything needed to be in order for the mock poll at 7 am. The room for the primary school’s class VIII, which had been converted into booth number 69, looked markedly different, as all extra furniture had been taken out and only five desks and chairs left.

Who does what, and how
The first desk was for polling officer 1 (P1), who checks identification of the voters through a copy of the voters list. Once a voter enters the booth, he will have to produce his elector’s photo identity card (EPIC) or the voter’s slip along with an identity card. P1 would check the voter slips number, match it with the voters list and, if everything is in order, would call out the voter’s name along with his serial number on the voters’ slip.

A voter’s name and his serial number would then be verified again by the polling agents (every party appoints a polling agent, who sits inside the booth to help the polling staff), who would sit just behind the desk of p1. Once the polling agents had identified the voter’s credentials and certified that the said person was actually the person on the voting list, the voter would be passed on to P2.

P2, who would occupy the second desk, would then take the signature of the voter and record the number of votes polled every hour.  

The next desk belonged to P3, who would attend to a part of the electronic voting machine (EVM), called the controlling unit. After the voter came to P3’s desk, he/she would press a button on the controlling unit and put the indelible ink on the forefinger of right hand of the voter. On pressing the button, there would be a beep sound, following which the voter would get to the EVM put on the adjoining desk and vote.

The EVM is covered on three sides by a cardboard, so that the voter’s choice is not revealed to anybody. The machine is connected to the controlling unit with a wire. Once the button on the controlling unit has been pressed, the voter has to cast his vote in a span of two-three minutes.

“A vote cannot be cast until the button on the controlling machine has been pressed,” Bhatia told me. “In fact, it’s the most important machine in an election process.”

The fifth desk was for the presiding officer, who is the boss of the polling booth and responsible for everything taking place there. His job is to keep an eye on the entire voting process, and also inform his seniors sitting in the taluka office at regular intervals.

I also spotted Dodiya Bahvsinh and Narendra Jotava, the school teachers appointed as booth level officers, and responsible for facilitating voters, too. They sat opposite the polling booth with the master voters’ lists and a booklet containing the voters’ slip.

The voter’s slip, Bhavsinh told me, contained details of the voter along with his/her photograph. The election commission makes two copies of the voters list, one issued to the voter weeks ahead of the election. This copy has to be introduced on the day of the polling to P1. It is as good as the EPIC.

If a voter somehow lost his/her copy, Bhavsinh had the additional copy. In case a voter is not issued a voter’s slip or there is some mistake on it, and his/her name is on the master voters list, he/she will still be eligible to vote.

The voters list is the most important document as it contains the names of all the voters falling under one polling booth. Every six months it is updated in order to make entry of newly eligible voters and deleting those who have either died or moved out of the place. In case the voter is in possession of the epic card but his name has been deleted out of the voters list he will not be eligible to vote. Again, if for some reason a voter has not received his epic card but his name is on the voter’s list he will be eligible to vote.

Pre-breakfast: last-minute preparations
Outside the polling booth Kuldeep Singh, the BSF havaldar and in charge of security of the polling station, had taken charge along with his three jawans by 6 am. The main gate of the school was manned by jawan Dhaneshwar Patil.  Standing with him were members of the local police, who form the outer layer of the security structure.

At 6.30 am, the sector officer, PK Kaparia (the state government official responsible for a sector, which could have 10-12 booths and who the presiding officer reports to) arrived at the polling station. Accompanying him was a videographer to record proceedings at regular intervals.  

After checking the polling booth, Kaparia and conducted a mock poll at 7 am — an hour before actual voting was to start — to ensure everything is in order and there are no last-minute snags in the machine. Some 50 votes were cast during mock poll. With “everything in order”, as Kaparia said, votes cast during the mock poll were deleted, and the machine sealed again.

By 8 am, all five desks inside the booth were occupied — the first three desks taken by P1, P2 and P3 (they refused to give me their name. “We are called P1, P2 and P3,” said one of them. While P1 and P2 were men in their thirties, P3 was a woman in her twenties). Behind P1 sat agents of the three main political parties contesting for the seat: Narsibhai Shiyal representing Sadbhavna Manch, Jairam Dhanji Sohan for the BJP and Praveen Dolasia from the Congress.

8 am: it’s game on!
At 8 am sharp, the first vote was cast — by Bhagwanbhai Nanjibhai Jholia, a farmer in his forties. He, along with a couple of farmers from three villages, had gathered at the gate of the polling station at 7.45 am. “I wanted to leave for my field after casting the vote,” Jholia said as he left the polling booth.

Soon, there was a queue outside the booth.

In the first hour, 86 out of 953 (about 9 percent) voters registered in the voter’s list had cast their vote — primarily male voters, with women coming in ones and twos. “They will crowd the booth after 10 am,” Bhavsinh, the BLO, said.

“They will come after finishing their morning chores,” he added, as Kuldeep Singh, the BSF havaldar, directed the women to form a separate queue.

Pre-lunch: aye, the proverbial ‘serpentine quesues’
Going at a brisk pace, 200 voters (or 20.9 percent) had cast their vote by 10 am, when the line outside booth number 69 extended to the school gate. The queue for men was still longer than the one for women. Interestingly, while the men (mostly youngsters left by then) were in their daily clothes, the women had put on new clothes, with most wearing a veil covering their faces.

Kanji Bhalia, 30, farmer and owner of a kirana store (general store selling household necessities), was one of the several voters I recognised from my interactions in the village over the last few days. “I have to be back in my store soon after I vote,” he said.

Entry to the polling station (the school premises) was through the voters’ slip, which had to be shown to Kamlesh Sangha, the BSF jawan standing guard at the gate.

By 11 am, the women had started showing up in numbers — in fact the queue was so long that several voters sat down on their haunches. Finding some old men waiting at the tail, Kuldeep Singh asked them to jump the queue and get to the front. “According to rules, those above 70 are allowed to jump the queue,” he told me.

Bhavsinh, the BLO, was meanwhile busy issuing duplicate voters’ slip to many who had lost their original. “I had gone house to house to distribute the original slip. I don’t understand how they can lose it,” he said, the voice carrying a slight annoyance. While most of those who came to Bhavsinh got the slip, there were many whose names could not be found on the voters’ list.

Laguben Jayantbajui Jholia was one such person. Bhavsingh looked at her electoral photo identity card (EPIC) and pointed at the entry, which showed her father’s name. “You are a registered voter in your father’s village; not here, in your husband’s,” he told Jholia. “You should first get your name in the ration card here and then follow it up for correction in the EPIC.”

As Jholia left the polling station disappointed, Bhavsinh told me, “Several such villagers did not get their names entered in the voting list here when the correction and update drive was on.”

Post-lunch: “A minor hiccup”
By 1 pm 59.60 percent voters (568 out of 953) had cast their vote, with women (277) almost equaling men (291).   

Inside the polling booth everything was going on fine until a voter named Shantuben Jholia complained that someone had cast a vote on her name, raising a minor flutter in the room. “Even if someone has cast a vote on her name, she cannot be sent away. A special provision will be made for her to be able to cast her vote,” Ramkesh Meena, the micro-observer, told me. Meena was one of the officials appointed by the election commission to keep an eye on the polling booth and make a report on the day’s proceedings.

He reports to the election observer, an IAS officer, in charge of a constituency.

On looking at the voters’ list, Bhavsinh discovered four persons with same name were registered. “In all likelihood another Shantuben had cast her vote on behalf of the complainant by mistake,” he said. Bhavsinh then instructed Shatuben to locate her namesake and bring her to the polling station so that she (complainant) could cast her vote on the other woman’s (who had voted by mistake) voter’s slip.

In a happy ending to the tale, Shantuben was able to locate her namesake and cast her vote.

“A minor hiccup,” Meena said, relieved.

The polling party broke for lunch at 2 pm, by which time the flow had reduced to a trickle, with the odd stray voter coming in. There would be another surge after lunch, I was told.

Another 200 people cast their vote between 2 pm and 5 pm, and the final voting percentage stood at 83.3 (total vote cast: 794; 428 men, 366 women).

At 5 pm, the scheduled closing time, the school gates were closed and the polling party began the process of sealing the electronic voting machine and the other items in the election kit. “It will take another two or three hours,” Suresh Bhatia, the presiding officer told me as I left the polling station to soak in the post-election celebrations in the village. 



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