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Saturday, February 22, 2020

The electoral foot soldier

From verifying voters and addressing their queries to assuring them of their right to vote, Vishnudutt Sharma has been making elections work on the ground for eight polls now.

New Delhi | Updated: March 16, 2014 9:34:13 am

From verifying voters and addressing their queries to assuring them of their right to vote, Vishnudutt Sharma has been making elections work on the ground for eight polls now.

Vishnudatt Sharma is a man on a mission. The 59-year-old engineer with the Municipal Corporation of Delhi is a booth-level officer (BLO) and his task today is a tiny, but significant, part of the world’s largest democratic exercise. He is on duty to verify the addresses and identities of newly-enrolled voters before they can be issued their voter ID cards — the one document which will entitle them to cast their ballot in the national elections.

About 7 lakh applications were received in Delhi till March 12, the final date for people to apply for voter ID cards. Of this large number, Sharma has to verify 100 new voters in his precinct — Chilla Village, a low-income neighbourhood in Mayur Vihar, east Delhi. His deadline is March 15, the start date for filing of nomination by candidates.

Across the country, there are 9.3 lakh BLOs — all government officials — entrusted with the task of ensuring accuracy, and thus credibility, in the electoral process. Sharma realises the seriousness of his work, and executes it thoroughly. He devotes his mornings and evenings to visiting the homes of the new voters, giving an average of five minutes to each. “Mornings and evenings work best for me and the voter, as all of us are busy with our day jobs,” says Sharma.

This afternoon, he has made an exception, to allow us to follow him. So, at 1.30 pm on March 13, he picks up his folder of filled forms and heads to the DDA Janta flats in Chilla village. As he walks through the narrow alleys, residents smile at him and invite him to their homes. Sharma is a well-known figure in the village. He has been a BLO here since 2007, and has supervised eight elections, including two general elections, two state elections, and two MCD elections.

Sharma smiles back at the residents, but won’t hang around for a chat. He, along with four other ECI officials and the village pradhan, heads to flat number 54-A, where one Anu Sharma lives. He rings the bell and introduces himself. An excited relative of Anu asks him to come in for chai-paani. But time is short, and he declines the offer, asking Anu only to sign Form-6 — the document for voter application. Seeing that he has no time for refreshment, Anu asks only one basic question — when would she get her voter card? He replies, “Soon”.

“Generally, we are given a week to verify the forms. But this time, we have only three days, so we have to hurry up,” he says.

But even within such limited time, the BLOs do not forget to remind voters of their right to vote. For example, 68-year-old Puran Singh, the next voter Sharma visits, says he couldn’t vote in the Delhi elections last December, as he was too late to submit the form. “My son and daughter-in-law were unable to submit their forms this time,” he says. Sharma advises him, “You must vote this time.” Singh is a tad offended, and says, “Woh toh hamara right hai.”

Singh is a particularly enthusiastic voter. He visits Sharma’s home to ensure his card is made. “Most BLOs live in the area of their work. People come over with their queries all the time,’’ says Sharma.

Pushpa Bhardwaj is next on the list. She wants a change of address, so that she is included in the Trilokpuri Assembly constituency. “The address on my earlier card is my mother’s,” she tells him. Her husband, who has never voted, has filled the form but is not home. Sharma gives his number to Bhardwaj and asks her to come over to his home with her husband to sort out their queries.

Sharma then knocks at Reena Shoy’s door. She is not at home, and is seen talking to neighbours in a narrow lane outside. Standing with a pile of clothes, she says, “I work in a hospital and don’t get time for all this’’, when asked why she hasn’t voted till date. “Is baar pucca vote karna,” advises Sharma, as he moves on.

The last on the list is Joseph Jobi, who says that he returned home from work to make sure his name, along with that of his wife, is included in the electoral rolls. “I have been trying to get my name on the electoral rolls for the last two elections in Delhi but have been unsuccessful so far,” says Jobi, visibly disgruntled. Sharma pacifies him, saying this time he shall be able to cast his ballot.

Sharma takes pride in his work. “It doesn’t pay much but it gives you the satisfaction that people will turn up to vote due to your hard work,” he says. The voters were cordial, giving him a lot of respect even, but that has not always been the case. Sharma recalls a time when a person lost his cool with him over incorrect information in a voter ID card in 2007-08. “The police had to be called in. Such incidents are rare though,” he says.

Sharma says voter enthusiasm has “increased” over the years. “But people were more excited for the Delhi Assembly polls than they are for the Lok Sabha elections. Perhaps they can more directly relate to issues around state elections,” he says. Sharma verified over 200 voters during the last Assembly elections in Delhi. Once verification work is over, he will ensure that everything is in place in terms of preparations in his polling station areas.

“Each BLO is responsible for an area which usually includes 1,000 to 1,600 voters. We are also responsible for handing over slips to voters who turn up to vote at the booth during election day,” he says with a hint of pride.

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