I first learnt of bogus voting in the elections when I was barely 13 years old. My friend of similar age was a lot taller than me and looked older than she actually was. In those days in West Bengal, there was bitter rivalry between the Communists and the Congress.
That rivalry sometimes played out even in private homes. My friend’s grandfather was a Congress supporter and his son a Communist. On an election day, my friend, forcibly clad in a saree with the pallu pulled over her face, was taken to the polling booth to cast a bogus vote for her uncle’s party.
Her grandfather, who got wind of this soon, arrived at the polling booth, waving his walking stick at all and sundry. He began to shout at the returning officer that his little girl was being deliberately forced to vote when she’s not even of age and that he would report his son to the police if this bogus voting went ahead.
To my frightened friend, it had been no great adventure for she was torn between her uncle and her grandfather. Moreover, she did not even get the treat that her uncle had promised for casting her ‘vote’ for the candidate he supported.
Years later, as a cub reporter, I saw bogus voting take place in a much more organised fashion (in the days of ballot papers) at a polling booth the night before an election. I had not been investigating – only checking out the area I was assigned to cover the next day and was blown out of my mind to see people who looked like goons capture the booth and stamp on ballot papers and stuff them into boxes. Disappointing was the fact that the candidate was known to have a cleaner image than others in the fray. At the time I worked for a wire service and my chief reporter was simply not interested in running the story. “Too risky and dangerous. No proof besides. Forget it, it is not relevant to your assignment,” I was told.
Had I been a little older, I thought, I would have fought back and not been chased away so quickly from that scene of crime (in metropolitan Bombay, not Bihar or Uttar Pradesh) so easily. But then when I was indeed quite a bit older, I was startled to discover that sometimes one can just do nothing about such things despite one’s best intentions.
This was the 1990s and in the wake of intense polarisation in the country, there was a bitter battle in a particular constituency in Bombay between the Congress and the BJP. The constituency had large Maharashtrian and Gujarati pockets as also huge numbers of minority voters and I was flitting from one party office to another on counting day. The mood in the BJP office was dismal as party workers found that their candidate was losing.
One of the workers in that office said to another, “Chook gaye hum. Humne unke areas mein itna jor nahin jamaya jitna ki unhonen hamare areas mein (we did not cast as many bogus votes in their strongholds as they did in ours).”
My next visit was to the Congress office and I was bursting with news of this seemingly incriminating conversation but when I asked one of the party workers of the candidate for a reaction, he was blasé. “Andazaa tha humein. Is liye raaton raat humne thoda aur josh laga diya unke garh mein. (We knew what they were up to. So we also overcame the handicap in their strongholds).”
The conversations had not been recorded as it was the pre-sting era and my editor said we could do little about it. But now for Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar to openly exhort his voters to cast their votes twice, as he did on Sunday, takes some beating.
Pawar is too much of a veteran to have put his foot in his mouth in this fashion, so I guess one has to give him the benefit of the doubt on this one.
The desperation, however, is clearly showing.