AAP Gurgaon has reported 110 polling booth problems during polling ranging from outright booth capture to bogus voting and harassing AAP representatives and making them leave or otherwise compromised. The situation isn’t exactly better in several other places. This is an account of poll booth capture at Mewat posted by Vivek Sharma on Facebook as Democracy dies in Mewat. Republishing it here: Democracy dies in Mewat: Should Gurgaon Elections be countermanded? If elections have been called the ‘dance of Indian democracy’, the number
staged in Mewat recently could well be one of the most vulgar yet. Evidently, the Executive has done the tango with the choreographers. The question now is: will the dance break records at the box-office or will it crash? Last week Mewat demonstrated at the hustings how a people could just swindle through the half-shut eyes of the world’s largest democratic state without so much as a by-your-leave. Beyond the squeaky clean Nirvachan Sadan on Ashoka Road, one wonders how the supra-institution of the electoral process, the Election Commission of India, plants its feet in Indian muddy waters. Its grassroots representative, the presiding officer on the last polling outpost, is conceivably either a stooge of the system or just too afraid of it. Mewat stands testimony. Even in this day and age, women did not cast their vote in Mewat – nor did the youth, the poor and all those placed lower in the social pecking order. They were physically prevented from reaching the polling stations. There were no orderly queues outside stations, contrary to what the media and the Commission will have us believe. Thondas – a local expression for political goons-cum-opinion makers – the grey-bearded, turbaned tough-hides sitting around chowks under the famous ’Hookah Huts’, reminiscent of the Haryana Khap Panchayats, decided who will be voted, and who will not. So, a gravy train of electoral ‘instruments’ pseudo-polled upon the orders of their greedy, and in many cases outlawed, political satraps. Why didn’t women vote in Mewat? The ostensible argument forwarded by one of the independent election observers of the Gurgaon Parliamentary constituency after the Yogendra Yadav team made their complaint was – they are politically blind. Through the mustard-wheat harvest season in Mewat which coincided with the elections on April 10, the women worked in the fields while the men smoked hookahs and sipped on chai discussing politics. Women harvested, tended the cattle, ran the hearths, and raised the long train of children born to them practically every other year. With a life so busy where is the sight to exercise their most basic right of casting the democracy? AAP’s strength has been youth and women. In the run-up to elections, the party was able to raise a cadre of idealistic young people in Mewat as well. These comprised mostly young Meo men who aspired to change the system. But on the D-day these young people were cast aside. A founder-member of AAP in Mewat was not even allowed to cast his vote. His uncle ordered the young man to pack his bags of idealism and shove them into a corner. The senior worthy then reportedly took on the onerous task of casting the young man’s vote in favour of the INLD candidate Zakir Hussain. How they managed it all is simple. The administration shut its eyes. The poll duty staff colluded or was coerced into submission and, then, voting took place ex parte, latth bajaa ke, as the Meo men of Mewat proudly put it. Incredible, as India stands on the cusp of selecting its 16th Lok Sabha! AAP candidate from Gurgaon Yogendra Yadav, who complained to the CEC about rigging in 110 polling stations, appears to have under-played the issue because the party doesn’t have enough evidence. It is not merely a case of rigging. Practically all of Mewat has cases of large-scale booth- capturing, duplicitous and dishonest double-crossing of democracy. AAP in Gurgaon did not have its outreach in this region unlike in the Delhi assembly elections when its volunteers mapped almost every booth, constituency and voters’ ghettos. Prashant Bhushan is spot on when he says, “AAP is stretched.” But the Election Commission is not stretched, not with its vast human resource, constitutional powers and wisdom. It must do in the Gurgaon Lok Sabha seat what is usually done in any election where a candidate in the running dies – countermand the election. The core democratic process in the Gurgaon Lok Sabha seat too is no more. In the last fortnight, one wondered why the Opposition campaign was non-existent, while AAP youth and women volunteers went door to door exhorting women to vote and the youth to take charge. Now we know – the Opposition simply relied on its Thondas. Similar stories are galore about BJP’s legions of goons raised over generations in the Ahirwaal area of the Gurgaon parliamentary constituency. Dalits, Chamaars, Balmikis and Mians are not allowed to vote. Their vote is cast by the wrestlers whose milk-ghee supplies are delivered through the toils of the women at work.
The Election Commission needs to hold an independent inquiry and, if necessary, countermand the elections or at least suspend the Mewat leg of the election. Here is a fine opportunity to make an example and sound the death-knell on contestants using the thondas-goondas across the country. The message should go out loud and clear – no one can hold the Indian democracy to ransom, that the era of such politics is over and that contests will have to be clean, clear and participative for all aspirants of politics. Meanwhile, the administrative machinery led by the Deputy Commissioner and Superintendent of Police of Mewat should be suspended. It is hard to believe that booth after booths were without the cops at work. And if they were around, they just looked the other way in deference to the oral caveat of the political masters to swing the poll. The inquiry will reveal:
(a) widespread rigging
(b) counterfeit polling
(c) collusion of polling staff
(d) absence of police or paramilitary
(e) women’s votes polled without them actually exercising their right
(f) presiding officers indulging in bogus voting and
(g) two poll-clash deaths in Punhana. A random sample check for poll-mark on voters’ fingers will provide sufficient evidence of the mockery made of these elections. Having said that, one can’t put it past the district administration to go door-to-door inking fingers! The pace of a time-bound inquiry is, therefore, of essence.
Yogendra Yadav and AAP stirred Mewat in the run-up to the elections. They formed youth groups to create a buzz around the ‘Jharru’. A team led by Yogendra Yadav’s sister camped in Ferozepur Jhirka exhorting women to vote. Teams of women volunteers travelled from Gurgaon daily, sometimes in their own cars, to canvass among women. The Mewati women were incredulous that someone had bothered to ask them to vote. They even promised they would buck family pressure and quietly cast their vote for the party. Volunteers arrived from Jharkhand on the one side and Jammu on the other to work on Yogendra’s campaign. The ground-swell for the party was evident. During the 20 days that this author camped in Mewat (Ferozepur Jhirka to be precise), he visited at least 50-60 villages (90-100 polling booths) on multiple occasions. The election looked like it could be a watershed in the history of Mewat. But eventually Meo Muslims voted the INLD and the Hindu electorate favoured the BJP, never mind the groundswell for AAP. On the day of polling, hardly any votes were cast for AAP. Its booth agents were either threatened or bribed – 1000 rupees goes a long way – and turned away from polling stations. There were bizarre cases where the Thondas pressed EVM buttons multiple times, sometimes 50-100 times. There are voice clips on Facebook of a Presiding Officer wisely arriving at an ‘appropriate’ number of votes to be polled to each party. Of course, 70 per cent were secured for the INLD. A Superintendent of Police, who has settled in Mewat after retirement, said this was possibly the worst breakdown of law and order in Haryana that he had witnessed in his career. As mandated by the Election Commission, AAP volunteers put three Rs 2 coins in their booth-agent kits in case they needed to file a complaint to the presiding officer. Shopkeepers were clearly amused as the coins were collected in Ferozepur Jhirka town. Their smiles, obviously, came from experience. There was hardly an occasion for the use of these coins. In hindsight, AAP and its supporters may have fought the elections like a group of amateurs. Mewat here presents an excellent opportunity for the democratic phoenix to rise yet again from the ashes of electoral fraudulence. An Election Commission-led injunction based on a zero-tolerance principle would go a long way to strengthen the democratic process. Countermanding the Gurgaon parliamentary seat, or at least suspending the Mewat leg of polling after a thorough Inquiry will go a long way to cleanse the elections of Thonda-Giri, violence and the exercise of illicit power in elections. The issue of Indian democracy supersedes individual political careers. Democracy died in Mewat on Election Day, Gurgaon elections should be countermanded. Post script: Mewat is a basket case – a most unusual dark zone less than 100 km of Delhi. A society gone into disrepair with all modern human development indices at its lowest. One hopes that democracy plays out somewhat better than here, in other parts of the country.