While half of Mumbai stayed back as the country voted to elect the new Lok Sabha, many who cared to step out to cast their ballot were turned away. ZEESHAN SHAIKH and SHALINI NAIR probe whether a staggering one lakh voters’ names were struck off due to an overzealous clean-up drive by an understaffed Election Commission, or due to political machinations as alleged by a few, or due to plain inefficiency of a procedure designed to fail.
Democracy doesn’t work unless you participate,” American President Franklyn D Roosevelt once said. Rajesh Shirke, a resident of the straggly chawls of the Marathi manoos heartland of Parel, may never have heard about Roosevelt but the sexagenarian surprisingly echoes the opinion voiced by the four-time US president.
Shirke is one amongst the countless Mumbaikars who, despite having voted earlier, were not allowed to cast their ballot in the just-held Lok Sabha elections in the city.
“I have been voting in all the elections ever since I can recollect. This time, I was told my name was not on their electoral roll. I have been staying in the same house for the past three decades. How can my name be struck off even as my entire family is allowed to vote?” Shirke said.
Mumbai, the sprawling megapolis with a population of 1.24 crore, presently has 98.97 lakh registered voters. The overzealous clean-up exercise conducted over the last two years, which resulted in 14.06 lakh names being deleted, has left lakhs of voters fuming. There are of course genuine cases where names have been struck off due to the voters having shifted out of their previous place of residence, due to death or similar reasons. However on the polling day, first in Pune on April 17 and then in Mumbai and Thane on April 24, lakhs of voters were flummoxed when they found their names were not there on the electoral rolls.
Sins of omission or commission ?
Residents in Bandra’s Perry Cross road, Shirley Rajan road and St. Martin’s road found names from individual buildings missing from the list while residents’ associations from Bandra, Khar and Santacruz complained about whole bunch of voters from entire lanes having vanished. Families that have been voting for generations in the slum belt of Dharavi suddenly found the right denied to them while names of dead people mysteriously stayed on in the electoral list at tony Cuffe Parade. First-time voters who patiently spent hours in order to get their voting card made so as to be part of the democratic process, had to return disappointed as their names were either misspelt or age incorrectly registered.
In addition to the large numbers of deletions, there were cases where the failure of the Election Commission to publish the voters’ list alphabetically continued…