India's poll pilgrims

India's poll pilgrims

India's poll pilgrims

Thirty seven year old Ashfaq ferries his passengers with pride on his newly bought battery-run rickshaw, which he plies on the streets of Chandni Chowk and Chawri Bazar. Earning his daily bread to provide for his family of 12, is not going to stop him from exercising his right to vote.

While 35 per cent of voters in the Capital spent the polling day at their homes flipping through television channels, Ashfaq will travel more than 1,400 kilometres by train to cast his vote in the Kishanganj constituency of Bihar.

“If I take my family along, it will cost me around Rs 4,000 for the whole trip. There are a total of 12 members in my family. While six of them live in Bihar, the remaining ones live with me in Delhi, me, my wife, my two brothers and the kids.”

Manoeuvring his rickshaw from the regal broadways in Connaught Place to the narrow lanes of Old Delhi from morning till evening, Ashfaq tried to get himself registered in the Capital itself, only to be let down by the technicalities of the electoral system.

“Having lived in Delhi for the last 15 years, I tried to get my name registered in the voting list here, but nobody listens to the poor. So, I will try to vote by going to Kishanganj where I am still a voter.”

Like Ashfaq, there are thousands of migrant workers in the Delhi, who will be travelling to their home cities just to get their fingers inked in this General Election.
Kalachand, fondly referred to as Dada by his colleagues at the Government office in Delhi where he works as a peon, diligently travels to his home constituency of Krishnanagar in West Bengal every time the ballot box demands.

He and his family too will undertake this journey to support their favoured political party. However, the decision maker in his family is his politically savvy daughter. “Once I will reach there, I will talk to my daughter, who lives in Calcutta, to decide whom we should vote for this time.”

Kalachand who earns Rs 220 a day, will not be paid for his electoral adventure as he
is still a daily wage labourer in the government office he serves.

While some travel due to a sense of duty to the nation, there are others who do the same being driven by family traditions and sentimental attachments. Ratnendra Pandey, a journalist who works for a leading news channel in Noida is among one of them.

“My mother, though uneducated, always used to vote at my hometown of Rae Bareli when I was growing up. She passed away two years ago, but this tradition of exercising our franchise survives with us even today. It will also be a good opportunity to utilise my pending leaves and spend some time with my father”, says Pandey.

As political heat makes its presence felt, even the NRIs are flying back to their homeland to make their voice heard in this great democratic event. Shalini Gupta, who had been working for British Petroleum in Chicago, put her job on the backburner to campaign for Aam Aadmi Party in Varanasi.

“I have been busy campaigning and organising several other NRIs who have come back to vote and campaign in one of the most hotly contested elections in recent times. One of my friends Navendu came to India for just a week to vote for Rajmohan Gandhi”, says she.

According to Shalini, others like Somu Kumar, Kuldeep Mudgil, Varun Gupta and Gaurav Bhardwaj also came from US to vote and support the Aam Aadmi Party, taking time out from their busy job schedules to support the movement.

“During this time, Bhardwaj suffered a car accident which disabled him from casting his vote. When he recovered in the hospital, the first question he asked was about the campaigning. We are hoping for his steady recovery, and he will surely vote and campaign for the party during the upcoming Delhi Assembly elections”, she said.

There is not always a perfect ending for these ‘poll pilgrims’. According to Ashfaq, failure of his chosen candidate and shortage of money will not stop him from travelling miles to fulfil his responsibility to the country.

“I will feel very bad, if the candidate I voted for does not win. But that won’t stop me from voting next time. I will continue to exercise my right every five years”, says Ashfaq as he rides away on his rickshaw to ferry more passengers.

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