Today, Mizoram went to polls despite the ongoing CoVid-19 pandemic. After much consideration and deliberation, our State Election Commission finally decided to go ahead with the planned election.
All Local Body elections within AMC (Aizawl Municipal Council) are known as the Local Council elections, and the ones outside AMC are known as the Village Council elections. There are 80+ Local Councils and 500+ Village Councils in Mizoram. These Local Council and Village Council elections are equivalent to the Gram Panchayats election elsewhere in India.
Other than the three Autonomous Districts of Mizoram (CADC, LADC and MADC) that have their own separate Village Council election dates, and a few localities across Mizoram that had been declared a containment zone due to community spread of CoVid-19, the rest of us went to exercise our franchise today.
Today was also the first time in my life that I voted in Mizoram!
Nine months ago, when I finally packed up all my belongings to move back to Mizoram permanently, a part of me was sad to leave behind 30 years of life outside Mizoram. But at the same time I was excited too, because I was going to see and do a lot of new stuff that I had never done before. One of those things I was really looking forward to was to finally cast my vote in Mizoram!
Of course, back then I never knew CoVid-19 would be lurking around the corner, rearing its ugly head out to change everything for everybody. This was definitely not the "first time voting in Mizoram" experience that I had in mind. But still, I went and voted today.
Here are 10 points that I have observed about our Local Council election today:
1. No campaign rule.
Candidates weren't allowed to have campaign rallies or even door-to-door campaign because of the ongoing pandemic. Hence people made use of social media and everything was done in a healthy and mature manner.
2. Minimal advertisements.
There were very few political advertisements. On my entire walk from my house to the polling booth, I saw only just these three banners belonging to the three political parties fighting for seats in my locality.
Very subtle and simple election banner, no hyped-up promises or gaudy rhetoric, just a direct display of who the candidates of each party were, along with a one-line selling point.
Of course it needs to be stated here that, being a small and close knitted society, almost everybody in our locality already knew who these candidates were, and so there was no need to introduce them or write about their qualifications etc.
3. Safety first!
In my locality, people had to vote in batches. Time slots were allotted for different age groups. As for me, I belonged to the 12 noon - 2:30 PM batch, which was for those between 30 and 44 years of age, while my mom and nieces were in different batches. I went to the polling booth with my sister and cousins.
There were also a couple of rules we had to follow, like wearing a mask, carrying our own pen and hand sanitizers, maintaining social distancing at all times, and only people from the same household were allowed to share an umbrella or water bottle.
4. Lack of security.
During my entire stay at the polling station today, I saw just ONE police officer! He was like walking around here and there, and then I never saw him again. No other cops were in sight, which was soooo different from any election I had experienced in Delhi, Mumbai and Pune. People weren't going to make any trouble, which was obvious. This is an epitome of peaceful election.
A little further away from the polling venue, there were three makeshift counters constructed by the ZPM, MNF and Congress party workers. I saw them displaying their party flags on their respective counters, and I think they were on sale or given to anybody who wanted them, I don't know as I didn't stop to ask or take photos. But one thing I did see was the party members going over from their counter to the opposition's counter and laughing and teasing each other. You will never find such camaraderie between different political parties in India like you do in Mizoram. What bliss!
5. Election watchdog.
Even though there weren't any police around, the election watchdog MPF was right there, setting up a booth directly opposite the polling station gate.
The MPF, which stands for Mizo People's Forum, is a neutral NGO body that oversees all elections in Mizoram. They are all volunteers, made up of different Church leaders along with YMA leaders and prominent senior citizens, and they make sure that the political party members aren't "fighting dirty" during election campaigns, and all elections are conducted smoothly and fairly etc.
One such example of their work would be about the transportation of people to the polling booth. Earlier, for example, if you supported Congress but had some problem like a fractured leg or other disability that prevented you from voting, then the Congress party would arrange your transportation to the polling booth. The MPF found such practices unfair, especially for those parties or independent candidates who may not have the financial resources to arrange such transportations, and so that practice was banned, and now the MPF instead arranges ALL transportation for such citizens with disabilities to the polling booth, regardless of whom they're going to vote for.
As we stood in line, MPF members were continuously running around, making people sit in an orderly fashion while we waited for our turn. Other MPF members were taking down names and phone numbers of all the voters for contact tracing in case somebody among the crowd is diagnosed with CoVid-19 later. Another MPF member was repeatedly announcing on the mic about how many people we should each vote for, how to fold the ballot paper, what are the ways in which your vote will be disqualified, and so on.
6. Meeting friends!
It was only at the polling station that I realized I haven't seen most of my friends in a very long time! With all the lockdowns and curfews going on, it was really great to see many of my friends again, even if half their faces were hidden behind masks. We shook hands in the air without coming in contact with each other, while others gave each other air-fistbumps.
Here's tlangval Johnson, looking tired from waiting.
No longer tlangval Sanga, with tlangval again Tluanga.
No longer tlangval Adam, with nula again Mary.
Rumour has it that both the tlangval again and nula again above went to cast a secret ballot, which has nothing to do with today's election, if you know what I mean :D
7. Waiting in line.
Chairs were kept far apart from each other as people waited for their turn to vote inside the polling booth. Here's one such photo I took of our Chaltlang polling venue.
In the above pic, you can see the back row people standing. They're actually not standing in queue, they were getting up to shift to the next empty seat. And that's how everybody proceeded, from one chair to the next chair until you reach the polling booth.
But then I saw a sign that said, "Using mobile phone is prohibited" and so this was the last photo I took with my phone.
After this, I kept my phone in my pocket. I mean, there was nobody around to enforce this rule, I could very well continue playing with my phone and taking pics, but that's the Mizo way of life we had all been brought up with. We just follow the rules, no questions asked.
Here are some images sent by my friends on WhatsApp of their poll waiting area. I love how everybody maintained enough distance between each other.
8. The Polling booth.
Finally, my turn came and I walked inside the polling booth. All MPF volunteers were now replaced by the actual State government Election employees. Just like everybody else, MPF members were also not allowed inside, except to cast their vote.
To the first officer sitting behind a desk, I mentioned my electoral ID number, to which she quickly found my details on a list, and then after verifying my Election ID card, she allowed me to proceed.
The second officer applied that dark ink thingie on my left index finger. Every time she applied, she would dispose the stick and use a new one for the next person. Very hygienic indeed. Also, I realized, right at that time, I hadn't actually cast my vote yet but I was already marked as someone who had voted. I was actually an illegal voter right then! Come to think of it, all of us were at that point. :P :P
The third officer turned out to be my friend and classmate from JJ School "M" (I'm not sure if I'm allowed to disclose the name of election employees, lolz.) Small world indeed. "M" gave me the ballot papers and instructions on how to stamp the seal on the candidates while I waited for the booth to be empty.
Once the booth was empty, I excitedly stepped inside, quickly selected my seven candidates, stamped them while using a tissue paper to hold the seal, folded the ballot papers as instructed, inserted them in a box, applied hand sanitizer on my hands and then walked outside, straight to home. I must admit, that feeling was a bit underwhelming.
I mean, since it was the first time I was casting my vote in Mizoram, I was maybe expecting some heavenly music to suddenly play in the background, you know, Steve Vai riffing it up while Dave Lombardo beats a kickass rhythm on the drums, with thunder and lightning adorning my surroundings, or something like that :D Instead, it was kinda "meh". Quite an anti-climax.
Fellow blogger Muantea managed to take my pic as I left the polling station though, lolz. Sly people everywhere :D
9. Party no bar.
Correct me if I'm wrong (as this was my first Local Council voting experience), but I think people don't really care about the political party when it comes to Local Council elections. I had been asking my relatives and close friends for the past few days about whom they're planning to vote for, and they always told me a mix of candidates across different party lines.
And the candidates they were planning to vote for were usually hard working people who cared about the people, whom you could rely on. It really didn't matter which party they belonged to. Out of the 7 people we were supposed to vote for today, my vote went to 3 candidates from Congress, 2 from MNF and 2 from ZPM (uuurrmmm, am I allowed to disclose that? Please let me know).
I heard that the State Assembly elections on the other hand are more closely affiliated to political parties and party manifesto etc. Do let me know if I got all that right.
10. Citizen's Pride.
Last but not the least, as underwhelming as my first voting experience was, I now feel this great sense of pride and responsibility for going out to exercise my franchise today.
A pessimist may argue, "How does your one vote matter, chances of you becoming the deciding vote is extremely rare, you're just a speck of dust in a vast ocean of sand". True, but the same argument can be made for any other vote as well. Might as well just give up on democracy and have an autocratic leader then?
Though I came very late in the picture, I'm mighty glad I had an opportunity to cast my vote today. And I hope I was able to interest you about my experiences today. The polling results will be out by tonight, so I'll end this post for now. Thank you for taking your time to read till this. Cheers everyone. :)