Unlike a few decades ago, peace no longer goes to pieces during polling in Uttar Pradesh, especially in the western and eastern parts where election violence used to be a perennial problem.
No magic wand has brought this change about. Rather, the credit goes to the Election Commission which has introduced a number of changes over the years.
“Introduction of electronic voting machines has stopped rigging, and the deployment of central para-military forces has virtually brought the violence down to zero," said a senior IAS officer who was an EC observer in last month's Punjab assembly election.
He felt the appointment of booth level officers (BLO) for management of electoral rolls had vastly improved the situation. The change was process-oriented during the last few elections (both assemblies and Lok Sabha).
"Now when there is a re-poll, it could be just because of a procedural problem," he said. In fact, the elimination of ballot papers was a major step forward in ensuring a free and fair poll.
"In the past, booths were captured for rigging for five to ten minutes," the officer said, adding that now the EVMs ensured that not more than five votes could be cast in a minute.
Another senior IAS officer, who had been actively involved in the election process over the years, said the commission's decision in 1991 to appoint observers as”key persons" and removal of the state police from strategic election duty had worked wonders. Before 1991, the observers were virtually tools in the hands of the district administration, he added.
More than the EVMs, Om Prakash Sharma, leader of the teachers' group in the Vidhan Parishad, said central forces had helped make impartial elections a reality. Before the advent of the CPMF, the entire poll process was at the mercy of the state police and administration which was often in league with the mafiosi to help the dominant group, Sharma said.
Illustrating the point, Sharma said,”My father Mangat Ram Sharma left his village after he was not allowed to vote by goons at Sujati in Baghpat district in 1968. Happily, this is now a thing of the past."
Pointing out that the EC had issued a notice to senior minister and BSP state president Swami Prasad Maurya for shouting at a security person at Padrauna (Kushinagar) on February 11, Sharma said such action would not have been possible in the past. Agreed Munna Singh Chauhan, the RLD-Congress alliance candidate from Faizabad which went to the polls in the first phase on February 8.
He said apart from CPMF, the decision to ban the arrangement of temporary party camps near polling stations had also helped in the elimination of violence.”The violence was always near these camps," Chauhan recalled.
Former UP assembly speaker Keshri Nath Tripathi, who contested the election from Allahabad, feels that growing public awareness against criminalisation of politics and the need to vote had contributed in a big way towards checking poll related violence.
"People are becoming more aware. The EC is getting stricter. Parties are realising the need to do away with criminals in politics. So positive things are beginning to happen and I am all for it," he said. Four-time MLA and Samajwadi Party chief whip Ambika Chaudhury, a candidate from Ballia, said apart from the drastic changes by the commission, political parties had also started discarding”violence and rigging experts during the last few elections.
“It is not that criminals have been eliminated from poll list, but parties have certainly tried to change the culture," Chaudhury said, adding area domination by the CPMF and confidence building by them had vastly improved the situation.