Now that the once-brave buntings hang limp and desolate from poles, the lurid posters are torn beyond recognition and the crackling, incoherent loudspeakers have fallen silent, it is time to calmly take stock of the festival called elections.

The first and most important prerequisite for a fair election are the voter rolls, and a near farcical situation exists in their preparation. Fortunately or unfortunately, the Election Commission, instead of ordering a completely fresh enumeration for the general revision of electoral rolls in 2002, decided to make changes to the existing roll itself. It gave enumerators a single enumeration form for every household on which ‘existing correct entries’, ‘names to be added’ and ‘names to be deleted’ were to be recorded under three different columns. One outcome of the 2002 revision was that many existing voters names were completely left out.

In Karnataka, a clue as to why so many old names got left out, including that of Kannada idol Dr. Raj Kumar, could lie in the experience of the members of Shanthinagar Residents’ Development Association (SHRED) of Bangalore. These developments seem representative of what happened all over the State, or even the country during the 2004 elections. Despite SHRED members’ pleas and attempts to correct her, the enumerator had stated that there was ‘no need to record the names already existing on the old roll again on the fresh enumeration form’. She had instead recorded the ‘names to be added’ under the column for ‘existing correct entries’. The seeds of the subsequent confusion in the rolls and woes of the voters of 2004, were thus sown in 2002 by such ill-trained and inept enumerators.

Voter registration in India is an agency function of revenue departments of local bodies such as panchayats and muncipalities. The Revenue Officers of these bodies are the Electoral Registration Officers, and they represent the Election Commission.
Knowing that residents were bound to find it difficult to find their names on voting day, SHRED organised a “Check the Electoral Roll” campaign on 20th and 21st March 2004. But it had not bargained for the fact that trying to identify each name on the electoral roll would be more like solving a riddle. For instance, how was one to know that the names against Serial no.1320 in Part 46, which read ‘Shaphiy Ajmi’, with husband’s name ‘Rakila Ajahara’, are actually ‘Safifa Azmi’ and ‘Aqueel Azhar’. And who would imagine that ‘Je Ena Vithala Rava’ is supposed to be J. N. Vittal Rao; that ‘Ela Kirthik’ is ‘L. Kruthika’ and that ‘Aara Bi Bhranvara’ is ‘R. B. Bhramavar’? Despite this, SHRED was able to help about 200 people to either find their names or submit Forms 6, 7 and 8 for additions, deletions and corrections of their names.

SHRED had also discovered that in Part 47 of the Shanthinagar Assembly Roll for instance, the names of all those living at house number 23 on K. H. Road, Andree Road and Shanthi Road, were all shown to be living at 23 Shanthi Main Road. National integration may not have worked in reality, but on the electoral roll at least, persons of all classes, castes and religions were apparently living in harmony under one roof. The name ‘Shanthinagar’ for this unique area seemed to be very apt. Though this ‘kichadi’ had been brought to the notice of the enumerator and in writing to the Deputy Revenue Officer by SHRED, these errors have remained after the general revision of 2002.

Our Hindi film stories are full of men leading double lives, with one wife by day and another wife by night. Those who refuse to believe these stories will find that Shanthinagar is full of people leading double lives with two addresses, either in the same Part Number or a completely different Part Number. For instance, names in Part 47 against Serial Nos.1259 to 1262 under K. H. Road can be found once more in Part 46 against Serial Nos. 1054 to 1057 under Langford Road. These are only a few instances among many more.

In much of India, parents and adult children live together. Those who always say, “It’s impossible,” and ridicule Hindi film stories in which the children invariably get separated from their parents will have to eat their words. In Shanthinagar, despite legitimately filing registrations from the same address, the rolls show several adult children living separately from their parents: while the children’s names are found under one road, their parents’ names are under a different road just around the corner. Just like the long lost parents and children from Hindi films, they are definitely going to bump into each other one of these days for the happy reunion ever after, courtesy the municipal election authorities.

One needs to also wonder at the complacency of our voters, who sleep for five years and then suddenly wake up on election day and run from booth to booth hunting for their names and then blame the ‘system’ for their missing names. No doubt, the ‘system’ has time and again made it difficult for us to vote, but that is all the more reason for voters to be vigilant about protecting their sacred right. Voters never bother to verify whether their names are there when the rolls are kept in the polling booths for scrutiny after the revision.

“I have a voter’s ID card, hence I can definitely vote,” is a myth voters subscribe to.
 •  Seven lakh voter entries corrected
“I voted in the last general elections, so my name is bound to be there,” is one of the most common delusions under which the voters suffer. No political party takes up the task of educating voters that, once a general revision of the electoral roll takes place once in five years - the last took place in 2002 - there is no guarantee that a name which used to be there earlier will continue to be there. “I have a voter’s ID card, hence I can definitely vote,” is the second myth voters subscribe to. That an ID card issued before the general revision of the electoral roll is of no use, if the name does not exist in the current list, is not known to many voters.

Though there is so much talk of citizens’ and NGO participation in government functioning, residents’ associations (RAs) are not involved by municipalities in preparing proper electoral rolls. In fact, even a free, ward-wise electoral roll is not made available to residents’ associations wishing to help.

Faced with similar and massive inaccuracies in the electoral rolls in rural Rajasthan, the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sanghatan (MKSS) of Rajasthan in December 2003 had open street meetings supported by the Election Commission, where the electoral rolls were publicly read out and the people themselves suggested which names should be retained, deleted or included. There are Election Commission directives that enable the public verification of voter rolls in theory. But Commission functionaries all over the country will have to work with the municipal authorities and the public if voter registration is not to be the farce that it has become.