THERE are those who fight the elections,those who run the campaign,those who address the rallies,and then those who watch the strongrooms. More than a month after Punjab voters cast their ballot on January 30,representatives of candidates have been performing this crucial task outside rooms where EVMs are kept under lock and key. Their brief: to station themselves at a point from where they can watch the sealed doors of the strongrooms at all times.
To most of them,that means dropping by daily,sometimes more than once,at these strongrooms 117 in all,one for each assembly constituency,spread over 56 locations,housing 19,841 EVMs to ensure nothing is tampered with. However,at least two men in Punjab have gone one step further and made the space outside those doors their home. One of them is Kartar Singh,86,stationed outside a strongroom in Desh Bhagat College in Dhuri (Sangrur) holding EVMs from politically sensitive Amargarh and Malerkotla constituencies (its a single structure with two rooms). The other is Kuldeep Singh,38,whose post is 115 km away,at Shivalik Public School in Mohali. March 6 (the day of the results),says Kuldeep,is not far.
The Election Commission had authorised each candidate to depute one representative outside the heavily fortified strongrooms given the unusually long 35-day gap between polling and counting days.
Kartar Singh represents Independent candidate Manjinder Singh (standing from Amargarh). A resident of village Salimpura,he came to Desh Bhagat College on February 11 and has not budged for a day. Between January 31 and February 11,a relative pitched in for him. I am allowed to sleep outside the strongroom till March 6, he says,showing an authority letter issued by the EC.
I just wanted to ensure that the machines are in safe hands. The only way to do it is by sitting here and guarding them like the security personnel, Kartar Singh says.
There are days when someone from home,around 25 km away,brings him food. Otherwise,the Punjab Police personnel guarding the outermost cordon of the three-tier security system share their food with him. The police officials say they are impressed. What he is doing is not an easy thing at his age. He is actually an inspiration for all youngsters, says Punjab Police Head Constable Sukhdev Singh.
Kartar is happy he hasnt had any complaint so far. I hope the remaining days pass off peacefully as well.
Kuldeep Singh at Mohali volunteered for the job. I asked them to put me on this duty. A representative of sitting Congress MLA Balbir Singh Sidhu,Kuldeep says he owes this to Sidhu sahib for the work he has done for their village,Shyampur. I just want these machines to be safe till the time they are unsealed.
He has only been venturing out to have food at a nearby dhaba. We are amazed at his persistence, says a Punjab Police cop. He was here even during the coldest and rainiest days and even fell sick for a brief while. But then he got some more quilts and shawls and started sleeping inside the play equipment installed in the schools park (located opposite the strongroom).
A temporary scare recently,when some sealed EVMs started beeping at odd hours,gave these representatives a few sleepless nights. There are some who like to visit these strongrooms at odd hours,sometimes very late in the night,just to see everything is in order, says a police officer posted outside Government Polytechnic in Bathinda.
The representatives were relieved to know that the beeping was on account some presiding officers failing to switch off the machines,and that no data had been lost or tampered with.
The fact that the Border Security Force (BSF) is guarding the innermost security cordon,while CCTVs and video cameras keep a constant watch,has been very comforting. We would have been more worried had the Punjab Police been deputed in the innermost ring. The BSF is a far more neutral and competent force, a representative posted at the strongroom at the Malout Institute of Management and Information Technology says.
Besides,senior district officials,from deputy commissioners and senior superintendents of police to sub-divisional magistrates have been visiting on a daily basis and recording their visit in log books.
March 6,it appears,cant come soon enough.