My alarm goes off at six, and I roll out of bed excited because today is the first time I get to cast my vote. Two weeks ago, I applied for a voter’s id. My father had assured me that I would get mine soon because elections were around the corner. Sure enough, I got mine three days before the elections, in sharp contrast to friends and neighbours for whom it had taken months when they had applied. Since we had plans to go to our hometown (Nagamangala, Mandya district), we started for the polling booth at 7 AM. Along the way, a number of strangers called out to us and said things like, “Vote for Party X”, “Number Y” (in reference to the candidate’s serial number in the voting machine), and “We don’t care about the party. Vote for person Z”. We just nodded at each and every one of them and finally made it to the polling booth.
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I don’t know how the Election Commission chooses its locations for people to vote, but our polling booth is an anganwadi that has two buildings: building 1 and 2. The funny thing is that the building that had roman numeral 2 painted on it was booth one and the other was booth 1. I was a little annoyed about the misinformation and lack of proper planning, but little did I know that I would be baffled by what the rest of the day had in store for me. There were only about five people waiting in line, so we joined the line behind them. In a few minutes, I was in front of the line, but I stayed there for five minutes. That’s when I sensed something was fishy. After waiting another five minutes, the queue totaled around 40 people. All of them grew restless, and an elderly man finally stepped forward and asked what was going on.
We were informed that the voting machine had stopped working, and the person who would fix it was on his way. After another restless fifteen minutes of waiting, he still hadn’t showed up, and half the people had left the queue. Afraid that we would not make in time to our hometown if we waited here much longer, we asked the security guard how long it would take once the man arrived. “Half an hour”, came the reply. We were caught in a serious situation. Should we wait to vote, at the cost of losing time for other important commitments, or should leave to our hometown, at the cost of our vote? Finally, we decided to do the latter because it was of a higher priority.
While going back home, everyone on the streets was talking about how candidate X was giving Rs. 500 to passersby down the road, and candidate Y was doing the same in another location. Some said that they had gone there, but no such thing was going on, while others insisted they keep changing locations for safety. One candidate finally showed up near one of the voting slip writing centres, and suddenly, a police van pulled up nearby and seven officers in uniform came out. “Someone’s alerted the police”, “Let’s get out of here”, “They’ll leave in some time” were the words that people hushed into each other’s ears as the group of loiterers slowly started to disperse.
A few minutes after we reached home, we got news that the EVM had been fixed, so we quickly went back and joined the queue. There were about five-six people before us, but suddenly, a dozen others came over from the other booth, cut the queue, and joined into the middle comfortably. When questioned, they were told that they had originally come to booth 2, because that’s where they had gone every time in the past, but when it was their turn to go, they noticed that they all had ‘1’ written on their slips. So they went over to the other booth, only to find that their details weren’t listed in the sheet over there. The presiding officer had informed them that there had been a mistake by the people who are filling out the slips, and so they were sent back to booth 2.
When I had cast my vote and come out, we decided to leave in haste without eating breakfast because of the time we had lost already. We quickly packed our bags and headed out. On our way to the bus stop, there was a huge crowd and a lot of commotion near the desks we had passed by earlier. An argument had broken out between some candidates and the police, and they were screaming at the top of their lungs at each other, while other officers tried to clear the area of curious passersby who stopped to watch what was going on. We were already running late, so we didn’t stop to learn more about what was going on.
We weren’t surprised to see an unusually large crowd at Navrang bus station. After all, thousands of people had to go to their native places to participate in the elections because that’s where they are registered. The first two buses that came were packed, and they didn’t even stop to pick up more customers. That was understandable, but what was yet to come was totally unexpected. A few Hassan buses arrived, but all the seats were taken, and so was all the available standing room. A good half of the commuters standing on the road needed to go to places that are on the way to Hassan, but the conductor would only let in people who wanted to go all the way to Hassan, so as to maximise ticket sales with the smallest crowd possible.
This happened once again, and once again, and yet again! 1500 BMTC buses and 3800 KSTRC buses. Those are the numbers of buses deployed for election duty to manage the huge number of commuters who would need to travel between Bangalore and their hometowns to exercise their franchise, but even that was insufficient. Of the buses that did stop at Navrang, only some of them were willing to pick up passengers who’d get off at stops in the middle. Whoever was behind the planning of the re-routing of busses has done a poor job at both planning and execution. I have to give credit, however, to the intelligent idea of deploying some AC buses too. People who were desperate got on to the AC buses after a little hesitation upon hearing the ridiculously high fares. A normal KSRTC bus would charge a little over 100 rupees from Navrang to Yediyur (not the Yediyur in Bangalore), but the conductor of the AC bus going to Yediyur asked a passenger for Rs. 480! After waiting for an hour with no luck, we dropped our plans and returned home.
We dropped our bags, and with a huge sigh of disbelief, sank into our beds to take some rest and change our plans.
While we were fussing about how unfortunate we had been to have our trip cancelled, we switched on the news and learned that there were thousands of others who were stranded without public transport. Some people were willing to pay for a ticket all the way to Hassan though they had get off at their stop much before that. Others got into cabs or cars heading in that direction, whose drivers took advantage of the situation, demanding up to thrice the fare it would have cost to go by bus.
So many couldn’t perform their duty – voting, without paying a high price!