Elections 2009: Beyond The Vote

Phase 5 of the Indian elections ended yesterday, and we are now ready for Phase 6 once the results are declared on May 16. This phase will involve plenty of action as the various parties jostle to form or be part of the government. I am not going to hazard any prediction — I think there are too many variables involved, and few have a clue of the action that has taken place.I am going to be watching the results on Saturday at home with a few friends, so we can analyse the results and dig deeper with a varying set of views on what India voted for.

It has been a wonderful personal experience me — being involved in the Friends of BJP movement that some of us helped get started. I got to see the election up close — interacting with various people, reading and watching it, and discussing it with many others. If there is one feeling that I am left with it, it is that India needs more like us to become engaged at different levels in the political process. It requires a tremendous commitment from us to help bring change in India. We cannot remain disengaged. And we have to engage with one of the national parties to help bring about this change. India deserves better. And we have a duty to make that future happen.

114 thoughts on “Elections 2009: Beyond The Vote

  1. DISENGAGED- what a powerful word !!
    A true statement – We cant be lazy anymore – UNITED WE SHALL CONQUER

  2. Election Duty – Responsibility or Harassment?

    General Elections (2009) have been over on 13.5.2009 but the process leaves many questions unanswered. Conducting the elections is always a very huge exercise for the Government. It incurs lots of resources, manpower, time, energy and expenses. Thousands of the state and central governments employees are affected due to various kinds of election duties. Based upon feedback received from many Sector Officers, Presiding Officers and Polling Officers in Hardwar district (Uttarakhand), I found many lacunae and shortcomings in the process/system. Few of my observations are placed below.

    Irrational distribution of election duties

    It is a mystery (not understandable) how the election duties are assigned to employees in various state and central government departments. It seems to be a very random process. It was observed that in few departments (as if intentionally targeted), most of the employees were selected for election duty (making complete halt of all activities in that department for more than one month) while in other departments, only few of the employees were selected. It appears that the concerned clerk in the district collectorate arbitrarily picks up names according to his wish. Such distribution seems to be highly unjustified. A rational procedure needs to be evolved for assigning election duties.

    Double election duties

    The situation of irrational distribution of election duties (as mentioned above) was further aggravated when many of the employees were assigned double duties. Besides being Sector Officer or Presiding Officer (which itself is a very big job), they were also assigned the counting duty. Why there was a need for double duties for few (unfortunate) government employees? Doing for the nation (by performing election duty) is a good thing but this way, the concerned employees felt harassed. Shortage of staff can not be a logical excuse for assigning double duties. The counting duty should have been assigned only to the remaining employees who were not assigned other election duty.

    Seniority

    As per Section 2.7 of Handbook for Returning Officers – 2009, “Seniority of officials should properly be taken care of, while giving election related duty and it should be ensured that a senior official is not put on duty under an official who is quite junior to him/her”. However, many employees were assigned duty as “Sector Officer” (lower duty in respect of his/her official rank) and put under a “Zonal Officer” of lower official rank than him/her. Similar may be the case in other categories also. This needs to be carefully taken care in future.

    Using old list of employees

    In many cases, it was found that the election duties were assigned to some employees who had already left the organisation or moved/transferred to some other places. It seems that old lists of employees (as available with district administration) were used for assigning election duties which in some cases resulted in assigning lower duty (against their rank) to some employees who had been promoted to higher posts. It is therefore essential that current/updated list of staff members must be requested from each department before assigning any election duties.

    Denial of Official Requests

    It is agreed that doing election duty is of prime importance for the nation. But in limited cases, where any urgent official task is prone to be badly affected for future activities, the concerned Government servant may be exempted for performing the election duty. But it was observed that in few cases, inspite of written requests by the Head of Organisations, the district authorities neither considered any such applications nor bothered to reply about the rejection of such requests. This was resulted in loss of urgent official tasks and kept the concerned employees in dark about the outcome of their requests.

    Trainings

    The Sector Officers and Presiding Officers were called for trainings many number of times (28 March, 15 April, 28 April, 30 April, 1 May, 10 May, 11 May) for election in Uttarakhand on 13 May. Though lots of time was consumed, but these trainings were not found to be systematic and effective (as desired). For example, they lacked practical guidance on how to tackle an adverse situation during the polls. Training on EVM should have been imparted in small batches. However, short play (10-11 May) on the entire polling process was quite informative and useful for the polling parties.

    Meeting venues

    (a) All meetings were held at different venues such as Collectorate (Roshanabad), Mela Bhawan, BHEL Convention Hall, Police Line etc. It would have been more convenient if all meetings were conducted at a single place so that unnecessary efforts for locating different venues for various meetings could be avoided.

    (b) The venue of training (meeting) held on 28 April was changed from Mela Bhawan to BHEL Convention Hall. But no written information was communicated to the concerned officers in this regard. It created confusion amongst some of the officers deputed for election duty which delayed their arrival at the correct venue. It is desirable that any such change should invariably be communicated to all concerned by FAX/phone/e-mail/letter or any other suitable means.

    Communication Plan

    Contact numbers of “Sector Police Officers” were not included in the list for use by Sector Officers and Zonal Officers. Due to this, majority of the Sector officers and Zonal Officers could not contact their Sector Police Officers till the pre-poll day. Otherwise, they were expected to make joint visit to their respective sectors. Therefore, in most of the cases, visits by Sector Officers had to be made alone to observe any violation of model code of conduct in their respective sectors.

    No handbook for Sector Officers

    Though handbooks were released for Returning Officers and Presiding Officers but no such Handbook was available for Sector Officers and Zonal Officers. Only a file was provided with zeroxed papers and notices. It would have been better if separate handbooks were also prepared exclusively for Sector Officers and Zonal Officers.

    Too big area with many polling booths

    It was informed that every Sector Officer has been assigned a small area with 8 to 10 polling booths under his/her supervision so that he/she can conveniently visit all his/her polling booths three times on the polling day. But in reality, many sector areas were very big (in some cases more than 20 booths covering more than 10 villages spread wide apart) and almost impossible to make 3 visits on the polling day. It is therefore very much required that all the Sectors in a district may be re-aligned with new boundaries in order to make equitable distribution in respect of the covered area and number of polling booths.

    Faulty maps

    The provided sector maps were quite faulty – the locations of villages were erroneously marked and link roads (routes) between various villages were not at all marked. It created great difficulty in locating and visiting the respective areas by Sector Officers.

    Issue and deposit counters

    There was complete chaos at issue counters (on pre-polling day) and deposit counters (polling day evening). It was really a tough time for the Presiding Officers. Issue and deposit of election-related material at these counters was highly unsystematic and mis-managed. Many polling parties found short of material in their kit. For example, the voter slips were invariably too less than number of voters in a polling booth. At the deposit counters, the concerned staff members did not carefully check the material being returned. Based upon their receipts, Presiding Officers were relieved by the Sector Officers in the night of 13.5.2009. But in few cases, the concerned ARO again urgently called the respective Presiding Officers on the morning of 14.5.2009 to make-up for the shortfalls in the papers submitted by them. And the poor Presiding Officers had to face this sort of harassment.

    Infrastructure arrangements

    The infrastructure arrangements were also quite hopeless at Collectorate, Roshanabad, Hardwar. There was no proper sitting space for thousands of polling officers. There was no shed provided to protect from intense heat. Hundreds of buses (to take the polling parties to their respective polling booths) were scattered all-around in a highly un-organized manner. Most of the polling parties had to spend 1 to 2 hours to locate their assigned bus. In some cases, instead of the buses, polling parties were provided trucks which was protested by them.

    Polling Booths

    In most of the polling booths, there was no arrangement of electricity which created a lot of difficulty for the polling parties in the night to make necessary arrangements for the polling. Inspite of all the above difficulties, polling parties took great pains to make the polling completed peacefully and successfully.

    Duties of district administration

    (a) One should not hesitate in gladly taking-up election duty for the nation. But any specific activities pertaining to a district need to be handled by the district administration only. If required, they can probably take the support of various “state” government employees available in that district. I don’t think that any central government employee should be directly “directed” by the district administration to support in local activities. I was informed that few central government employees were directly asked by the district administration to perform duty at “Buddha Purnima Mela” at Hardwar on 9.5.2009. In my opinion, this was not correct because mela duty was in no way related to the election duty. If the vehicles (available with Sector Officers for election duty) were required for the mela duty, then only the vehicles could be taken from them for a day instead of asking the Sector Officers (central government employees) to perform mela duty.

    (b) It is again to be insisted that “Kawad Yatra”, “Kumbh Mela” and other similar activities are the responsibility of district administration and state authorities. No central government employee should be assigned any duties by the district administration for these activities. In emergent cases, District authorities should seek the prior permission and approval from the concerned Ministry before assigning any duty to central government employees.

    Fear of election duty

    It is unfortunate that many a times, implicit or explicit warnings (threatening) are issued by various officers such as “if you don’t come for the meeting, then FIR may be lodged and you may even be arrested”. Instead of creating fear about the election duty, efforts should be made to encourage the government officials to gladly accept the election duty. One of the possible measures could be to allow handsome honorarium to all those who do the election duty.

    I hope that my above comments will be taken in positive perspective and efforts will be made to rectify all the shortfalls mentioned above.

    Jai Ganga Maiya
    Special Observer from Public
    Hardwar (Uttarakhand)

  3. I am glad that your support to the BJP was a total flop! Better luck next time…maybe Advani should just call it a day and Modi should be tried in court

  4. I am glad that your support to the BJP was a total flop! Better luck next time…maybe Advani should just call it a day

  5. Rajesh,

    There is that unmistakably sinking feeling in the stomach when one realises that one is on the losing side, and particularly when one has been very vocal and active about one’s support and stances.

    I realise what you must be going through but it was a nice and worthwhile effort. Also there is nothing wrong in speaking up for what is to be spoken, even when one is out of tune with the times and its messaage.

    It is always difficult to campaign for a party and yet retain ones sense of judgement. For someone like you to support someone like Advani is itself an act of internal coercion. But for that partisan tilt towards the BJP, you have presented your case for India’s developement and your dissatisfaction with the pace of progress with elan and dignity. Nothing wrong and everything right…

    I guess I did say earlier that your effort was timely and is a pointer to the future of Indian politics, an India as awakened as Nehru wanted it to be.

    It is clear that India needs to clean up its governance and without citizen led feedback no government in power is going to do that. The loss should act like a spur and encourage people like you to set up precisely that, a monitoring site for good governance, not in terms of political war mongering but in terms of benefits and well thought out plans for the majority.

    The time to start is now!

    And better luck with the coin next time!

  6. Pingback: India Economy » Elections 2009: Beyond The Vote

  7. Sub: Requirement of leave on 14.10.09 after taking part on election duty on 13.10.09 as Presiding Ofcr. of Haryana Assembly Election

    I have performed my duties well and effectively and returned to my home in the late night of 13.10.09 at Faridabad.May, I request for the official leave to be announced for 14.10.09.

    Submitted please.

    hemant sharan
    nhpc,sec-33,faridabad
    Polling Party no: 86001

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