In the run-up to the bypoll to Meghalaya’s Ranikor Assembly constituency on August 23, a bunch of athletic young men have been selected to run from polling stations in their villages to the nearest communicable point, through mountainous tracks and forests, to convey to officials the progress of polling.
Besides Ranikor in South West Khasi Hills district, the bypoll to South Tura Assembly seat in West Garo Hills district will also be held on August 23. In South Tura, Chief Minister Conrad Sangma is contesting to get elected to the state legislature.
The Ranikor bypoll was necessitated after the resignation of Martin M Danggo, five-time legislator who won from the seat earlier this year on a Congress ticket. He is now the National People’s Party candidate for the bypoll.
Large parts of Ranikor, which is characterised by a rugged terrain and is located close to the India-Bangladesh border, neither have motorable roads nor mobile connectivity.
This is where the “runners” come in. These young men, known to be athletic in their village communities, will sprint from polling stations in inaccessible areas to the sector polling officer and convey information about the polling process. The polling officer, in turn, will convey it to the district headquarters.
Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) of Meghalaya, Frederick Roy Kharkongor, confirmed that at least 10 such “runners” have been identified by the district administration.
“They will be expected to make four trips — first around 9 am to inform if mock-polling has been held and whether polling has begun, the second around 11 am with information about polling trends and turnout, the third at 1 pm and then sometime between 3 pm and 4 pm,” Kharkongor said.
Kum Isawanda Laloo, Deputy Commissioner of South West Khasi Hills district, told The Indian Express, “In at least 10 of the 65 polling stations in Ranikor constituency, we have selected these runners. Many kuccha roads become non-motorable during heavy rain. Hence, as a contingency plan, we have kept additional runners for such areas too.”
Laloo explained, “These remote polling stations are around 70-80 km away from the district headquarters of Mawkyrwat and the larger part of the route is non-motorable and one is expected to walk around 2-3 hours to reach some of these areas. These areas have no mobile connectivity.”
Laloo said the selected youngsters are in their early 20s and they will get appointment letters in the coming days.
“They are young, athletic and trustworthy. They have been selected by the Booth Level Officer in consultation with the village headmen and they have been briefed by the Sector Officer of their respective polling station,” Laloo said.
She added that the “runners” will be paid a remuneration, but did not specify the amount.
The process of conveying information and the location of communicable points — where mobile network or radio connectivity are available — will be explained to the “runners” by the sector officers.
“To turn the wheels of democracy effectively, you need swift flow of information on the election day. These young people will be the living bridges of information between the polling officials and sector officers,” the CEO said.