Do you believe in the jinx concept? I have a friend whose name we don’t utter. According to popular belief in our group of friends — backed by past evidence including a car accident — saying this man’s name is bad luck. Don’t get me wrong; he is one of the nicest people you can meet. He even works for the generous-sounding public-sector unit called Dena Bank. ‘Dena’, in Hindi, means ‘giving’, you know. But when the first SMS of the day is from theone-who-shall-not-be-named, the ideal thing to do is: Take leave from office and hide in your room!
Mr Jinx messaged me at 6.30 one morning earlier this week to crib about an obligation, and then urged me to pull some levers and get him out of it. The issue is that even as his bank promises only to ‘give’, Mr Jinx does not want to ‘give’ election duty. As a banker’s true friend, I would’ve gone to a government office with him, called some reporter friends, or at least suggested an excuse to put in his leave application. I did not.
It’s the season of righteousness, when a certain Mr Kejriwal and his Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) have ruined our perfectly hypocritical life. Worse, my Facebook statuses these days are allegedly sympathetic towards the AAP, even though actually they are just displays of one-sided love for a certain Bullet-riding beauty. Hence, staying true to my carefully cultivated, ‘naively earnest’ image, I called Mr Jinx and gave him a lecture instead, on how such duties are the display of an honest employee’s character, how unbiased officers can stop bogus voting, how these are rare opportunities to… hmm… serve the nation!
Somewhere in the middle of this, he had already put down the phone.
He’s not alone. In Chandigarh, which votes on April 10, some 2,500 government employees are on election duty. Neighbouring Punjab, which is to vote on April 30, has around 1 lakh. And these figures do not include cops. With duty in the air, an epidemic of various diseases has gripped several employees who have applied for sick leave; many have rediscovered grandfathers who died unfortunately without seeing a Modi-ruled utopia; others claim to be getting married in the middle of the Biggest Festival of Democracy. There must be some who want to do the duty happily, but I am yet to meet The Ideal Citizen, even though there is extra salary given.
The duty is not easy. Several hours of training in making lists, operating the EVMs, rehearsals and mock sessions later, the V-day arrives when the true potential of a democratic system is on display. In the queues, the slumdweller and the millionaire stand with an equal right. Assisting in this task are duty officials who curse their luck at having to work — extra at that — despite bagging a government job.
Before you write in with hate mail, dear Government Employee, let me tell you that my father is one of you. He, too, will hate me for writing this. Hence, I will temper the gross generalisation with a sympathetic story.
Once there was a municipal election in a town in Punjab. My friends and I were 13 years old, not old enough to vote, but the atmosphere took us to the polling booth. As queues got longer and the sun made people jittery, the local MLA and his men arrived in a jeep. His nephew was a candidate. We smiled at him, but he wa was in a hurry to get to the front of the queue. He wanted to cast his vote, we thought. When he came out, his left arm carried the ballot box and the right hand held a collar. The collar belonged to the opposing candidate.
One of the three poll officials at the booth got up from his seat and walked menacingly towards the MLA. He received a couple of slaps, a gun was flashed, the police watched, and the opposing candidate ran for dear life. The MLA, his nephew, and the ballot box left in the jeep. People went home, many of them laughing. Left behind were the three officials. One of them sat shocked, the other two smiled helpless smiles.
In the evening, the MLA’s nephew was declared winner.
Things have changed a lot since. While the MLA is now looking to graduate to higher seats, the nephew must be hoping to become an MLA. The Lok Sabha polls are no municipal elections either; so booth-capturing has been replaced by violent mindcapturing, and guns replaced by TV-fuelled lies. The only constant are the duty officials who help you cast your vote.
You may choose the corrupt-but-sophisticated pseudo-liberals, the well-marketed fundamentalists, the allegedly radical rookies, or the meaningless NOTA. But, do queue up. For the sake of those reluctantly patriotic poll officials, make your vote count. And say ‘thank you’.