Assembly elections amid COVID-19: ‘Unsafe’ EVMs, Mamata Banerjee’s grit and rising violence

Faith in the political rulers of the day has only been sliding. We are becoming more violent. To make matter worse, we could be hit by severe physical and mental disorders due to coronavirus

Assembly elections amid COVID-19: ‘Unsafe’ EVMs, Mamata Banerjee’s grit and rising violence
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Humra Quraishi

Amid recent news reports of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) being taken here and there by the political candidates, there’s an earnest cry that we get back to the paper ballot days, and safer ways of voting process.

In fact, people’s faith in the present-day political lot and the machinery under their control is fast withering, if not done and over with! In fact, just after the 2017 election results were declared in Uttar Pradesh, I had met numerous Dalit and Muslim families, who told me that they did not vote for the BJP candidates of their area, and they were more than shocked to see the election results, with the BJP candidates leading all the way!

Muslims and Dalits had also spoken about their “doubts” about the authentic functioning of the Electronic Voting Machines. Doubts gained ground, after faulty EVMs had surfaced in Bhind district of Madhya Pradesh. They had come up with hard hitting queries: Why should it be presumed that faulty EVMs existed only in Madhya Pradesh and not in the Uttar Pradesh elections? Why should the assurances given by the Election Commission be accepted? Isn’t the Election Commission manned by civil servants handpicked by the top political lot? Who will explain to us that the EVMs are one hundred per cent okay…and the elections free and fair?

Getting back to today, to 2021, people’s faith in the political rulers of the day has only been sliding. Never before has one witnessed such complete hopelessness and willingness to surrender to the political mafia holding sway. As there is severe fear holding out amidst eerie build-ups.

In fact, why just the political mafia. Didn’t we see that disturbing video of two paunchy cops beating and punching and kicking a hapless auto -driver of Indore! Why? Because his mask hadn’t fully covered his nose! He almost died, not because of the coronavirus but because of the wrath of the two cops who by law are supposed to protect us!

Violence is spreading out. We are becoming more and more violent. It’s writ large in everyday life, in the speeches at the political rallies. Frightening scenario, to say the least. In the midst of the coronavirus, we could be hit by severe physical and mental disorders. After all, we are getting fed on the political speeches of the Pied Pipers of the day!

West Bengal polls and Mamata Banerjee:

How I wish I could have travelled to West Bengal to cover the elections. I couldn’t but there are several brave, gutsy journalists who have been travelling all over West Bengal and further towards Assam covering the elections. In fact, I have been viewing the news reports and videos sent by the Delhi based journalist Bhasha Singh. She has travelled there, talking to a cross section on the ground realities to the ‘real’ India. She has reached out to the ordinary masses of our country and focused on them in her reports.

I have just re- read Mamata Banerjee’s biography- ‘Didi - The Untold Mamata Banerjee’ ( Penguin Books) to have a closer look at Mamata Banerjee’s . Written by Shutapa Paul, it focuses on political graph of Mamata Banerjee. Perhaps, her childhood paved way for her to be drawn towards politics as her father, Promileshwar, was an active Congress supporter. To quote from this book, he (Promileshwar) “allowed his office to be used for party meetings. Local Congress leaders would come home regularly for tea, much to Mamata’s delight. She would listen to endless tales of the Indian freedom struggle and their revolutionary ideas. She would willingly prepare home- made glue to paste their posters. It was during this impressionable age that Mamata learnt about both the Congress and the communists.”

Indications that she would be fighter- activist seemed to hold out right from her childhood. To quote from this book, “one day during the daily shopping run she noticed that a neighbour’s careless flicking of a beedi had burnt a passerby’s shirt, and tempers had flared in the locality. While the other onlookers stayed mum, she narrated the incident to her father without trepidation and pointed out the culprit.”… And along the expected strain right from the student days Mamata’s activism paved way for political battles. She would often take her books to the protest sites, and if arrested, study in the police lock up. “Mamata has famously been referred to as a ‘street fighter’, a nomenclature that is not unjustified. ‘Fighting for our lives on the streets of Calcutta was something we did, 330 out of 365 days in a year. Everyday there were protests, meetings and slogan- shouting. Everyday there was violence.’ she says… Under Subrata Mukherjee’s leadership, the Chhatra Parishad organized a slew of protests between 1978 and 1983;Mamata played a central role in almost all the agitations whether it was against Jayaprakash Narayan or Farooq Abdullah.”

Her political struggles indicated two prominent factors: Her determination to be a political fighter. Also, her determination to be remain secular, trying her utmost to keep the Right -Wing communal factions at bay, away from causing communal strife and havoc in her State.

And finally, the problem of stray dogs:

This particular verse of Raghav Arora from his book of poems - Thy Grace ( Verma Siyaahi) focuses on a horrifying reality of the day, that confronts each one of us on a daily basis: stray dogs attacking and hounding , making life hellish for the human beings, yet the municipalities look the other way.

“The Dog- O’ - Phobia /

As I step out of my safe territory,/

The creature honors me in a barking fury./

And as I head towards the daily needs shop/

His other acquaintances start chasing me like a rude cop./

Seeing them as if I lose my wits and heart rate,/

Sometimes changing my path or rushing inside someone’s house gate./

Especially when I pass the clinic situated in my lane,

The fear of 14 big injections haunts my brain./

Twice they had already chased me on the street,/

Once I was riding my bicycle, once I was walking by feet./

Although I didn’t give them a chance to bite and attack,

But rammed my bike into a neighbor’s car while looking back./

On some houses, people had put up notices-/

“Beware! There is a dog in the premises.”/

Why can’t they keep the animals’ reigns tight/

And stop contemplating, “Don’t worry it doesn’t bite.”

Views expressed are personal

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