A month is too long a time for things to go wrong. This was precisely the reason why Abu Bhai pitched a tent near the strongroom where EVMs used for Agra South assembly constituency have been locked away after the first phase of polling on February 11.
The tent has become the makeshift house for Abu Bhai, 55, for almost a month now. He rarely leaves the tent, prefers offering his namaz there to going to the nearest mosque.
“I have to keep a watch on the strong room, been doing it for all these days just in case something happened,” he said. The Central Industrial Reserve Force and police personnel guarding the EVMs at the barricaded Mandi Samiti complex in Agra do not give him confidence enough.
Abu Bhai hopes his hard work would be rewarded with a victory for his party – Bahujan Samaj Party.
The BSP has three such tents packed with party volunteers who the party candidates from Bah, Fatehabad and other constituencies in Agra district have been meeting frequently for updates on the security scenario.
The Bharatiya Janata Party has a tent too. “Our party leaders told us to pitch this tent on February 20, and four of us take turns to spend the night while the party arranges the meals,” Lal Singh Parihar, the district executive member of BJP, said.
“The strength of the campers will be increased within 48 hours of the day of counting on Saturday (March 11), so that we keep an eye on the strong rooms of other assembly constituencies too,” Parihar added.
The tents are minimalist; party loyalists sleep on bed sheets spread on the ground and spend their waking hours eating together or playing cards.
Preetinder Singh, Agra’s senior superintendent of police, said there are provisions allowing every candidate to keep his or her representatives in tents where EVMs are kept under the tightest of security.
Unlike their counterparts in Agra, the candidates of nine assembly seats of Lucknow seem to have faith in Election Commission’s security arrangement. Only five candidates have turned up to inspect the 3,360
EVMs since they were kept at the Rammabai Ambedkar Rally Ground after the third phase of polling on February 19.
These candidates include BJP’s Rita Bahuguna Joshi, contesting the Lucknow Cantonment seat, BSP’s Ajay Kumar Srivastava and two independents.
“The EVMs are under three-tier security. Unarmed UP police personnel provide the first tier, keeping people off at the barricades. Armed policemen and Provincial Armed Constabulary personnel handle the second tier outside the boundary wall of the rally ground. CISF personnel form the third tier inside the ground and outside the strong room within. Such is the security that even the UP police are allowed to enter the ground,” Rajeev Kumar, additional district election officer, said.
Candidates and their representatives need clearance from the district administration to inspect the strong room. They have to produce a special pass and sign a register every time they pay a visit.
Ensuring safety for the people’s verdict is not easy for the security forces personnel. The CISF personnel, with a six-hour shift duty, have it easier than the policemen who have to work in shifts of eight hours.
In Gorakhpur, a 16-member police team including two station head officers are deployed at a time outside the strong room about 100 metres from the university building while six CISF personnel take turns to guard the EVMs.
The Gorakhpur strong room was set up on March 4, the day of sixth phase of polling.
Work schedule is not the only reason why the police personnel are envious of their CISF counterparts. They have to arrange their own means while a temporary mess have been set up for the central paramilitary force.
“How can you expect the police to work actively with such a tiring schedule that affects our health?” a police constable asked.
The CISF personnel did not grumble. “All fine in here… except for the mosquitoes,” one of them said.
The police personnel in Gorakhpur, though, were better off than those guarding the EVMs on the premises of Mundera Mandi in Allahabad.
“We are working for 12 hours without toilet, electricity, drinking water facilities and proper food. For two weeks since the fourth phase of polling on February 23, we have been sitting hours in a shed without a fan or water,” Mohammad Abbas, a police constable, said.
“We understand we have a duty to perform for the sake of democracy. But we would have preferred a shorter gap between the polling day and the counting day,” Sudhir Kumar, another constable, said.
(With inputs from Abdul Jadid in Gorakhpur and Kenneth John in Allahabad)