On the 25th of November, 2004, a phone rang in a small, but elegantly decorated room in Vasant Vihar, New Delhi. A man spoke into it, and hung up.
Walking casually to the door, he barked some orders to the men standing outside, who started stripping the room of all furniture. In 20 minutes, the room was bare. It was once again what it had been for the past 3 years: a room once used as a maintenance office for IA Colony, but now left to offer shelter to an occasional stray dog on a cold winter night.
No one saw them leave, no one overheard the phone conversation, but someone ‘felt’ them.
* * *
The assembly elections in the states of Chhatisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Delhi were approaching. The BJP were favourites to win everywhere except Delhi. Sheila Dikshit was expected to make a clean sweep, the Metro, and privatization of electricity sitting pretty in the Congress portfolio.
Campaigning was on full fledged- old film songs being set to new lyrics, extolling the public to vote for so and so candidate, auto rickshaws doing their rounds, megaphones mounted…the usual.
The news analysis on NDTV 24/7 predicted a congress majority in New Delhi, based on pre-election polls. On Wednesday, 26th November, the headlines of the 3 o’clock bulletin spoke about a voting machine ‘copy’ found in a raid on a farmhouse in Mehrauli. The election commissioner dismissed it as ‘non-threatening and easily detectable’.
The 3:30 bulletin saw it relegated to the scrolling lines at the bottom. By the 4:00 bulletin, it had been taken off.
* * *
Wednesday 10:00 am
I had read a bit about telepathy, the sixth sense etcetera, but I had never very much believed in it. I did not deny its existence, indeed it would be foolishness to do so; it just did not happen to me. No extra sense warned me about the person round the corner I was just about to bang into, the hot iron I was just about to unknowingly touch, or the extra tough math exam that I was TOTALLY unprepared for.
So was I unprepared for that funny sense of ‘knowing’ that I had to check out the colony shopping center! I tried to ignore it, telling myself that there was NOTHING of interest in the market, not even a decent junk shop, but that uncomfortable feeling wouldn’t go.
I gave in to it finally, and strolled over, pretending that the warm sun was what had drawn me out.
There was no crowd at the market, half the shutters were down, and loud yells were coming from the fly infested sweet shop. Just another day at work, infact. Wondering why that ‘feeling’ wasn’t going away, I bought a packet of chips and started munching my way home, only to catch the first few drops of rain.
Winter rain so early? (No, its Providence, you fool!)
Taking shelter in one of the many un-used rooms in the shopping complex I bided my time. I am not fond of dark, dusty rooms, but there was no way I could cross into the opposite gift shop without getting drenched.
Talking about dust, why wasn’t this room as dusty as it should be? Walking over to the switchboard I found that the switches were brand new. Hoping against hope I switched on what I hoped would be the switch for the light and hail Bosie! The room lit up.
I noted with surprise that I wasn’t the only person taking shelter. Curled up against the wall, wrapped up in a blanket lay Ramu, the neighbourhood errand boy.
Apparently my entry wasn’t noisy enough to wake him, but the sudden brilliance had him jumping up, out of bed.
“Oh its you!” he said, falling back down again.
“I thought it was those 2 men.”
“What 2 men?” I asked curiously, as he obviously expected me to ask.
“Don’t you know anything? They took this room for a week; paid me well, they did, to find another place to sleep.” he said.
“Had this place all done up, they did. Their boss came in the evenings.”
“How do you know all this?” I ventured, only half believing him.
“I used to hang around here in the day time, they didn’t mind. They thought I was too stupid to understand what they were saying.”
“I’m not stupid! They thought I wouldn’t be able to follow their English. Well, my English teacher says I’m the best student, but even SHE would have trouble understanding their Bihari English!” he laughed out.
“Aren’t you Bihari?” I asked.
“No, I am not!!” was the heated reply from the 10-year Hariyanvi.
According to him, their boss was some ‘election guy’. Had a lot of deliveries and phone calls.
The rain finally let up and I made my way home.
* * *
I had forgotten all about the matter until I saw the news at 3:00. I have always had a very active imagination, and wondered how much chaos fake voting machines would cause. And how easy it would be to make one that registered a particular vote no matter what button you pressed. If you believe that all humans are rotten to the core or that anything can be bought with money, then the idea of planting a fake machine seems simple. Childishly simple.
* * *
An anonymous caller ‘advised’ the Delhi Police to raid a liquor shop in RK Puram.
This time, the news remained in the headlines for the whole of Thursday.
More fake voting machines were found but the shop owners denied knowledge of the suppliers. They had been paid in lakhs to store them in their shop, and beyond that, they knew nothing.
The Election Commissioner was now worried. There was no way of knowing just how many of these contraptions had been circulated, and elections were a mere 4 days away.
The Delhi Police rushed into action, combing the city for more fake machines.
* * *
The doorbell rang early on Friday morning. Rubbing sleep out of my eyes, I went to open the door and found Ramu, excitedly hopping on one foot then the other.
“What is it Ramu? Mom didn’t want you today, she TOLD you she wouldn’t be home!” I said, trying not to yawn.
“My memory isn’t half as bad as yours; I remember that.” He said, tartly. “ I thought you might want to know that ‘Boss’ is back.”
“Who’s Bos- oh, him! Where is he, and what is he doing?”
“He came to the shopping center at 9:00 today morning (yes, readers, that IS early on a holiday!!!). He’s eating at the mithai-wallas. Those 2 men aren’t with him, though.”
I thought quickly (a remarkable feet, when last night’s dreams are still playing havoc on your mind) and decided that I would like to take a look at this mysterious ‘Boss’.
I changed hurriedly, and followed Ramu to the shopping center. Very few shops opened this early (they, apparently, concur with my idea of ‘early’!) and it was easy to spot the lone man eating at the sweet shop, one of the two that were open.
I wondered what to do. I obviously couldn’t just go up to him and say, “Hey! Mystery man! I’m curious to know why you rented that little room and paid Ramu so much to get out of it, rather than letting your ‘side-kicks’ chuck him out. I’m curious to know why you packed up so soon and left, and by the way, I’m also wondering why a well dressed man like you is eating from a fly-infested, cheap sweet shop, when you can obviously take your pick of fancy eateries to eat from.”
He solved the problem for me. Noticing Ramu beside me, he nodded and smiled a bit. He beckoned to him, and handed him an envelope.
Ramu ran over again, and told me that he had been given a letter to post. Like they say in poems, ’mine eyes brightened’.
I loudly offered to help him stick the necessary stamps, and pulled him into the post office, right opposite the sweet shop. No, I DID NOT open that envelope and look inside (sheesh! What do you take me for?!) However, I DID take my own sweet time sticking and un-sticking the head of Gandhiji onto the envelope. Not much of my saliva had gone waste, however, before Mr. Boss was joined by a distinguished looking man.
I gave a start. That was Shri Lokapalliya, the local independent candidate.
Shri Lok, as his name was often shortened to, was extremely popular. He was one politician who genuinely cared for the people of his constituency. He was a Professor at a well-known College in Delhi, and never once had anyone any reason to doubt his integrity. He was a determined, far-seeing leader, and it seemed that everybody in Vasant Vihar, everybody in the whole of this constituency (just so that you know, Vasant Vihar falls under the RK Puram constituency.) wanted him to win the elections. Such was his popularity in a Congress dominated area.
Shri Lok and Boss had a nice long conversation before they went their separate ways.
Perhaps the ‘Boss’ just managed his election campaign, I thought. But that niggle in my sub-consciousness, also known as the sixth sense, wouldn’t stop telling me that this was going to be one interesting election.
* * *
Saturday came and went. Sunday went creeping by, if you were a candidate.
The Police were still searching for the answer to the fake voting machines seized.
After much debate, it was decided not to postpone the elections, as the FVM’s, as they had come to be called, had been investigated, and found to behave like the real thing. Perhaps, mused the powers-that-be, this was somebody’s idea of a joke or a quick way to earn money.
* * *
Monday morning dawned nice and bright. There was a holiday like air. Schools had given a day off, and students were enjoying a lie-in. Some schools, like mine, had given a whole week off for no earthly reason, but who’s complaining?
People went in trickles to the election center in our colony until closing time.
The day ended peacefully. No Kolkata style Election violence, thank you very much!
* * *
School started the next day, and thoughts of ‘Boss’ and FVM’s were replaced by organic chemistry and co-ordinate geometry.
The results of the election were declared on Thursday, the 4th of December.
Surprise, surprise! The Congress DIDN’T win! Every constituency in Delhi turned up an independent winner. Sheila Dikshit lost, ML Khurana lost, all the big shots lost. True the margin wasn’t big, but there you have it. The elections were over in Delhi, and the Congress didn’t win, the BJP didn’t win.
All the news channels spent the day expressing surprise. Some suspected foul play, others cried it down. No trouble had been reported anywhere. The Congress was shocked into silence. They had been expecting a clear victory, so had, indeed, the rest of us.
* * *
Friday, the 5th, saw another surprise. Instead of merging with a party, the independent winners decided to get together and form their own party. They elected Shri Lok their leader.
Chief Minister Lokapalliya was sworn in and was given a standing ovation after his speech.
The niggle in my sub-consciousness that had made me go and hear his speech, suddenly gave a ‘thump’ to my inside, as if saying, “You stupid moron! Can’t you connect it all even now?”
I was startled. The ‘Boss’, Shri Lok and FVM’s started revolving in a merry-go-round in my head, not unlike what they show in those Hindi serials, when the heroine has a flashback of her indiscretion.
Readers, I am only 16 years into the world. My mind isn’t yet half as scheming and evil as your average master-criminal. I think I have an idea of what happened in the Delhi elections of 2003. If my explanation sounds too simple, then remember the second sentence at the beginning of the paragraph.
* * *
I think there was a conspiracy (I know the word sounds corny and is there in every other cheap thriller, but hey! I’m telling it like I see it.) to make Shri Lok the CM of Delhi. There was a conspiracy to deny every known party a SINGLE seat in Delhi. There was a conspiracy to form the Satya party, consisting of the independent victors. And ‘Boss’ and Shri Lok were behind it.
The educated middle class had taken a giant leap in the history of mankind. Tired of getting government after corrupt government, it had rigged an election in a democratic city, and got away with it. It, rather than the illiterate masses that vote on the basis of which party gives away more food sacks, finally chose the leader it wanted.
I suspect that the FVM’s had somehow been planted in a majority of polling centers. They probably registered something like every fourth vote in favour of the independent candidate. That coupled with the legitimate votes the independent got, made him/her a winner.
The ‘Boss’ is probably just another well-to-do serviceman/business man with some clout. Organising something like this in a mass scale isn’t easy, and 2 slip-ups did happen, but the seized FVM’s didn’t arouse much suspicion. He probably rotated between a lot of ‘offices’ like the one he set up in our colony, to escape suspicion. The planning for this must have taken up a lot of time and could only have come from the brain of Shri Lok. He is, after all, a distinguished professor of political science and foreign affairs. The other independents too are of a similar background. I suspect they too, had a brainstorming session or two over it.
* * *
10th August, 2004
I never reported my suspicions, why should I? Shri Lok was running Delhi better than any of his predecessors. True, some of the usual glitches were there, but then, it would be silly to expect otherwise.
There was never a whisper of a scam, the electricity and water situation improved. Homes were set up for the homeless. Street children were taken care of. Crime levels came down. The sporting infrastructure in many Delhi sports clubs improved. CAS was done away with. There was an unprecedented transparency in the working of the Delhi government. Everything improved. The change in the functioning of the capital was monumental.
* * *
I have never understood why my dormant sixth sense awoke for that particular period, because I have had no more such ‘flashes’.
Maybe in 50 years or so, occasional riggings like this will finally produce a central government consisting of members who have more of an interest in the progress of India, rather than the size of their back-pockets.
I hope I live to be 66!
* * *