1 lakh poll staff and what they’re doing

1 lakh poll staff and what they’re doing

BMP Commissioner N Manjunath Prasad heads an army gearing up for April 18.

Chief Electoral Officer Sanjiv Kumar, BBMP commissioner N Manjunath Prasad, and Police Commissioner T Suneel Kumar with BBMP staff at an election awareness rally. Photo by S K Dinesh

BBMP Commissioner N Manjunath Prasad is now the district electoral officer, and oversees the work of about one lakh election personnel.

The IAS officer has conducted 20 elections in various capacities: as district election officer, returning officer, and Election Commission observer.

He explains the scale and magnitude of the current operations:

What are your challenges?

We have close to one lakh staff, comprising BBMP staff and the police force, on duty for the elections. As leader of the team, my duty is to ensure that the directions issued by the Election Commission percolate to the grassroots. I make sure my staff is well informed and that nothing is amiss on poll day.

What kind of pressure do you face?

N Manjunath Prasad has 
worked across India as poll

During elections, different government departments work together. Our staff are thoroughly trained and we make sure nothing goes wrong because of staff ignorance. There is meticulous planning at every step.

What problems have you dealt with in your earlier experiences?

Booth capturing and violence at the polling stations are things of the past. They don’t take place any more. In 1999, when I was returning officer of the Contai Parliamentary constituency in Medinipur, West Bengal, the sitting MP was from the Trinamool Congress. He decided to field a 1954 batch IAS officer called Sengupta.

The officer’s wife, who held a high position in the World Bank, had meticulously planned the campaign. Ten days before the elections, they came to me saying people were always being blocked at some booths.

She requested the West Bengal police be removed and Central forces be deployed to ensure a free and fair poll. Amidst much resistance, we commissioned this, and for the first time people entered the problematic booths. Sengupta won by 12,000 votes.

On another occasion, when I was returning officer in Davanagere, I had two candidates (Congress and BJP), each asking me to give them a certificate declaring they had won even before the tabulation was complete. I was also under pressure from the media to issue a statement of victory in favour of one of the two candidates.

Victory processions were taken out even before the results were announced. I was under tremendous pressure from all quarters. Had I issued a statement, I would have lost my job!

Do politicians interfere in election work?

We work under the Election Commission. We go by the rules. Under normal circumstances, if I take action against an individual, there’s so much political pressure. If you suspend somebody, you get so many phone calls.  But during the elections, my hands are not tied. If I find there is some wrongdoing, I can initiate action.

What are the powers vested in you during elections?

Once the elections are announced, the district election officer has to ensure a level playing field in the district. Once the model code of conduct comes into force, we make sure nobody gets an unfair advantage. Appointment of polling personnel and squads are our duty. I can requisition any vehicle or premises for the elections. If I want to take over anybody’s house, I can do so. Nobody can stop it. We have the powers to search any house in coordination with the income tax department.

What kind of citizen awareness programmes have you initiated?

We interact on radio shows, visit educational institutions and go wherever people congregate.