As we were waiting patiently for the other polling parties from the school to board the bus, I was searching for my previous experience as the presiding officer jotted down online.
Every polling party ahead of us in the queue at the collection center was taking their time to return the articles due to incomplete forms and erroneous records, forcing us to plead with the collection officials to clear us first, only to be met with blank contemptuous stares. Finally, when our turn came, all it took was two minutes, everything arranged perfectly as per the instructions, the skepticism
giving way to a studied silence.
Every struggle of the previous night was forgotten, yet another election process successfully completed, thanks to the fellow polling officials, friendly polling agents, polite policemen, and the humble machine gun-wielding commandos, all under one’s command for close to two days!
And it suddenly dawned upon me, as I was struggling to step out of the collection center, that the dreaded demon has, after a gap of ten years, bitten me on my left leg!
To ease the pain, I thought of jotting down my previous election experience. My, short.....errrr....long story.....God, Providence, the Almighty, schemed everything perfectly for our team during that election. In the morning itself, our ever-reliable colleague Aparna gave us the good news that we had to deal with only 672 voters in our booth. Having collected polling equipment and materials early, we reached our bus first and waited for a long time for others. We had 272 men and 400 women as voters as per the document. Four poll teams were in our minibus; two to Anathalavattom and two to Arayathuruthu, near coastal Trivandrum, apparent left strongholds. Our bus stopped for us near a shop on way to the polling booth. A couple of rough men tried to pick up a quarrel with the driver. I took them on, just to get a feel of the local behavior. Sensing that I am a poll official, they backed off avoiding me and limiting their arguments with the driver, who immediately apologized and quenched the fire.
On reaching the booth, by walking some 100m carrying the materials, I checked with the policeman on duty about the political situation and behavior of local people. He told me that the place used to be a left bastion, but now BJP has gained significant ground. My worst fears about the polling day were coming true. But, behind my back or above my head, the conspiracy has already been hatched by someone somewhere, I realized that by late evening.
We settled down on our booth and began checking the facilities around. A teacher working in the school was waiting for us and she gave us the key to the motor room for pumping water to the bathroom with the special request for safekeeping since the room was doubling up as the computer room of the school! Now that was the massive relief no. 1, for that ensured that we will be having water throughout.
We completed our initial responsibilities, pasting posters given by the authorities around the booth. I briefed the officials about the mock poll and cleared their doubts. The sun was setting and there was no trace of any polling agent. I was beginning to get worried since the presence of agents on time was essential for the smooth conduct of the mock poll and the start of the real poll on time. I asked the policeman if he knew the local politicians and he replied that he shall try to contact some.
Sun had set and the lights were switched on around the premises. I was going through the handbook when I heard people approaching the booth. I looked out and saw some rough and tough men talking to the policeman. He came and told me that the BJP agents have come. I turned back and took out the signature reference sheet. The leader of the group entered the room and handed over the appointment letters. The letters only had the signature of the election agent of the candidate and nothing else was filled. After checking whether the signature was matching, I asked him if he is the agent. He replied in the negative and called out to his group. To my surprise, two shy young girls hesitantly entered the room. I helped them fill up the letters and told them to report back by 5.30am on the poll day morning. Massive relief 2: Polling agents of a major party are girls!!
Once they left I sat down to arrange the covers and fill up some forms. A lady came with her husband and introduced herself as the Kudumbasree head for the locality. She was given the charge of our food and snacks and she patiently took down our orders for dinner and breakfast. Massive relief 3: clean and hygienic food will be available on the table adjacent to our booth.
It was getting late and the two ladies in the team left for some nearby places for sleeping. They were asked to be back by 5am in the morning. Agents of the two major fronts were still missing. I had a shower and changed over to nightdress. Dinner arrived, chappathi and veg curry. Having finished dinner, I was checking my mail when the next group arrived. The bearded leader was calmness personified and he handed over the letters completely filled and signed by the election agent, Sri. V Sivan Kutty. Without reading the letters I asked him if the agents have come. He said yes and the agents moved from out of the darkness, astonishingly again two women!! Huge relief 4: Polling agents of the two bitter political rivals are all..... Women!!!
Congress agents came last, two college going young boys; and the most difficult task of any presiding officer, dealing with the rival polling agents within the booth, transformed into a cakewalk for me. From that moment onwards, it was just doing one's duty diligently :)
As a bonus, the BJP girl came with a male-female counter sheet of her own: which was quite handy for cross-checking with our worksheet at every one-hour interval :)
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