Voting Blues in Gurgaon

The hour I spent at the Chiranjiv Bharti School in Sushant Lok, Gurgaon earlier today washed away any feelings of patriotism or civic sense that I’d summoned to cast my vote. The 3 stalls outside the school building were full of anxious people crowding around 2 officials posted at each stall. It took me some harried enquiries and jostling to find out that despite my Election Card, I needed to ensure that my name was indeed present on one of the 4 printed lists for Gurgaon residents. That list was also going to indicate the room number I’d have to wait outside to exercise my candidate choice.

After some pleas and grovelling, I was able to scan 2 lists full of b/w thumbnails of voter photos but didn’t find the 2 faces that mattered to me. To add to the frustration, they were randomly arranged so I was supposed to spot my entry from a poor print of Kishore or my face on one of the several pages – well, I didn’t find any photos resembling us.

Having been enthused by Tata Tea’s Jago Re campaigns, I wasn’t going to give up easily. I decided to merge in the crowd pleading 2 RWA volunteers in one of the 3 stalls to scan all 4 lists on a CD with voter ids. It seemed thoughtful of the volunteers to have arranged a cd with a laptop to do this good deed for their fellow Indians. But they seemed troubled, tired, dehydrated and at the end of their tether of patience. People were screaming out their names and addresses for checking, brandishing their Election cards and trying to pull off any print-outs they found in each other’s hand. In a way, it was amazing to see their determination to cast their vote. But this confusion only added to the woes of the volunteers who were grappling with multiple lists even on the CD to look for a single name! They’d keep telling people to go back home or go inside the school building and complain to officials rather than waste their time.

After exercising a mix of cajoling and patient waiting, when my card finally appeared in the volunteer’s hand, in my mind, I re-visited the problem of who to vote for. None of the election candidates had carried out any noticeable campaigns in New Gurgaon and, judging from the state of the city’s infrastructure, the performance of the elected candidate in the previous years had been appalling. Well, I thought that I should still do my bit to ensure that at least the roads getting paved don’t languish and the Metro actually arrives here in 2010. It seemed though that destiny had other plans and neither Kishore’s nor my name could be found by the volunteers. This is when we’d cast our vote in the previous elections from the same location, using the same Election cards!

We decided to try our luck at the last point of checking – inside the school building where 2 officers were armed with 4 lists of alphabetically arranged names. Here, we could only get to 3 lists but not our names. Then, coming back home to share this experience and scanning the Net for officers to register our protest with, seemed to be the only recourse…

It was so clear that the contestants had not only no interest in our vote, they had put in ‘systems’ in place to ensure that they got minimum votes so their comfortable positions weren’t affected.

15 thoughts on “Voting Blues in Gurgaon

  1. Interesting article. My experience in North Delhi was quite different. What is troubling is that although campaigns like Jaago Re can give voter ids to people but what if the situation like you have mentioned happens. People still can’t vote.

    Moreover with the constant job shifting, lots of people can’t vote in any case. The whole voting exercise seems quite wasteful with such low % of voting in the country.

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  2. Shubham, another friend in Delhi has also recounted positive experience. Seems like Gurgaon was the ‘chosen one’ for mismanagement this time round. There was absolutely no awareness created locally about voting booths or candidates – only what the main newspapers covered. I agree that the media’s motivation is hardly helpful if the local bodies are unwilling to handle the turnout.

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  3. You know, maybe I’ve just been lucky, but the 4 times I encountered elections since I moved to Gurgaon, I’ve never faced a problem. Earlier we got listed along with Silver Oaks residents, and then later, with Sun City residents. In fact, this time around, there was even an insistent election commission flunky who wanted me to enlist in the Sushant Lok electoral list as part of a door-to-door campaign to get people to sign up to vote.
    Of course, no sign of information on candidates or where the booth was going to be.

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  4. Nupur…I wonder then if ours was an isolated case. At the Sushant Lok booth though I saw many people turning away. I went over again at 5 pm but they had locked the school gate by then. I recall that the last time this polling booth had looked fairly organised but it may have been because an NGO People Action Group had actively involved the RWAs into sending in residents and had even fielded a candidate who eventually didn’t win. Sadly, PAG has disappeared too. If it wasn’t for your positive one on Gurgaon, I’d say that this place has no ethics, no administration…

    BTW, good to see you here.

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  5. Too bad you couldn’t vote. We have to choose the slightly-less-of-the-many evils.

    I didn’t have a bad experience either. All smooth, except that the officials were taking a long time. So long, in fact, that a sleeping guard at the door woke up in indignation when he found the line hadn’t moved for a while. I wondered aloud whether it might be now okay for me to go in, since I could see the guy before me in the queue still hadn’t finished with his voting, and a bulldog of a lady two places behind me yelled, “Aaap jaye na!”. That got me. I asked her why exactly she was yelling at me. In fact, if she wanted to come on ahead and get the volunteers to work faster, she was welcome. Caught out, she laughed in some embarrassment and had the grace to decline. Oh well. i swished my pony tail at her and went in. Did my bit.

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  6. Good that you managed your visit even if choosing one candidate over another may have been a game of inkee, pinkee, ponky!

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  7. Hi, I voted this year though my wife could not becuase her center was far away and the booth closed by the time we reached there. The good news is that you care as much as so many other Indians, we can try harder, I am sure things will change, if we keep trying.

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  8. I’m in complete agreement with the proposition made on strat.in to allow participation by all Indians whichever city of the country they may be in, by landing up at any polling booth, presenting their unique ID number and a finger to make their mark on the party selection. It’s an absolute horror that we should have to be at the mercy of the local administration or goons to exercise our fundamental right. The process itself has to be set right by the CEC to warrant a higher participation by the citizens.

    And yes, Arun, exchanging our views on best practices is the absolute minimum we could do to push for a change.

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  9. I think its quite unfortunate that we are unable to vote because of being away from our home locations.

    The idea mooted about the unique id is something I considered too. We are moving to smart cards for various national I-cards. It might even be worth it to have them synchronized.

    Was wondering about the complexity of the task though. Taking the case of the middle class, if the person is able to secure telephone bills on a post-paid, the databases could be matched with the national database for addresses.

    I am confident we could develop similar schemes to improve voter turn out.

    Another problem I have with the voting business is the lack of information we have about candidates. Maybe it is time for having nationalized televised debates. How about a Hyde park like situation where candidates are put on the stand?

    Sunil

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  10. This time around the main dailies had published detailed information on assets and achievements of candidates, and that itself had felt like a step forward from the previous years. On a search, I find similar details on http://myneta.info/gurgaon. However, after our unsuccessful trip to the polling booth, our attempts to find an election officer through the Net or otherwise, to take cognisance of our experience had been useless. A liaison officer caught on the phone said that he couldn’t do anything. That we should complain in writing. My point is that we’re grappling with an unrelenting system that will have to be forced to bring in transparency. It could be by connecting the polling booths over the country to the voter database and facilitating voting from any part of the country or by ensuring that only educated, ethical and clean individuals qualified to be candidates or increasing the frequency of elections to prevent complacency in politicians. How difficult is to issue a unique ID to every citizen and keep it valid for various registrations? I’d thought our Election Cards were just that but having them yesterday didn’t help. Unless the CEC gets real teeth and run by unbiased individuals, half-baked measures will continue to dominate our lives.

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  11. I’m really sorry you guys couldn’t vote, the whole episode is quite sad. We were a lot luckier, had not only a very smooth vote, we were treated with great respect, and taken through the booth really speedily. For a small constituency like ours, they had arranged many booths in the same premises. When we inquired about 49-O, they actually explained the procedure to us and had the forms ready for it ! An architect friend of mine was very keen on voting for “no one”. Eventually i think he did vote for someone. Oh yes, all this was when we don’t have Election Cards issued to us yet. Maybe that’s the problem!

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  12. The episode is sad not so much for our not exercising our ballot but for seeing the murkiness of our democracy yet another time. And, to think of its effect on the next generation. Kabir can’t wait to be 18 to cast his vote and hopes for a mid-term election and that too after July so he qualifies for voting. Now he also worries that despite his coming of age, he won’t be allowed to vote because of such admin issues.

    Encouraging to know of your experience esp vis-a-vis Rule 49-O. What do we attribute this difference in our country’s treatment of its masses to? Should I rejoice not being born in Bihar or lament landing up in Gurgaon?

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  13. Yes. I’d have voted for Congress to support their work on infrastructure development in Delhi-Gurgaon. I find their role grossly inadequate in Gurgaon and even in Delhi there are anomalies that can’t be forgiven. Still, my impression is that Congress has a higher number of educated, secular and forward looking politicians in it than other parties. More importantly, with the pressure to organise the NCR before the CW 2010 games and a clear majority, the govt will have fewer excuses to give for not taking development initiatives forward.

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