‘Follow these Good Habits’ read a board at the Nigam Pratibha Vidyalaya in Khanpur, a crowded neighbourhood in South Delhi. A row of voters stood in queue mid-Wednesday morning patiently waiting their turn to choose a candidate who they hoped will uphold the messages on the board – ‘speak the truth’, ‘do not steal’ and ‘respect your work’.
The school’s compound that usually sees children running helter-skelter had been transformed into a venue that allowed the neighbourhood’s adults to exercise their franchise -- to choose carefully between the Hand, the Lotus, the Broom and the Elephant or five other party symbols.
The bustling Khanpur colony falls under the Ambedkar Nagar constituency, one of the eight constituencies of South Delhi that includes Mehrauli, Chattarpur, Deoli, Tughlakabad, Badarpur and Kalkaji. The entire area saw 64.82 per cent voter turnout an increase of 11.5 per cent from the previous Assembly elections.
“I will give it to you in writing that Sheila [Dikshit] will lose,” proclaimed 56-year-old Om Pal, who sat on the concrete walkway of the school, resting his leg. His wife, Chander Vati, began to list everything that was wrong with the State – price rise, electricity and water bills. “We have voted for whoever we thought was right,” she said, without giving away her choice. “After all, once they get the chair they will forget us.”
Few metres away, 25-year-old Sonam, a mother of two, watched her son Yash walk on the miniature tables that were moved outside the classrooms to accommodate the Electronic Voting Machines. She was planning to vote for the new entrant, the Aam Aadmi Party, if her husband is successful in tracing their voter slips.
Missing voter slips bothered many voters on the busy Chattarpur Main Road. Among them was 31-year-old Robin Singh, a first-time voter, who left in a huff. “I have spent over an hour trying to find my voter slip. This is despite my name and serial number listed,” he said. Chattarpur Enclave-resident Afzal Khan commented: “Perhaps, like the political parties, the Election Commission should roam the streets knocking on people’s doors and hand them the voter slips so they are not inconvenienced and made to stand around for hours.”
With a majority of voters that The Hindu spoke to preferring to keep their choices a “secret”, those who pressed the button on the AAP’s symbol ‘ Jhadoo (Broom)’ were most vocal about admitting it. A faculty member at Amity University, 26-year-old Shweta Tyagi said that her entire family “voted for change” especially after voting for people who have repeatedly turned out to be corrupt.
In the high-profile Mehrauli constituency that has Congress leader and Delhi speaker Yoganand Shastri pitted against BJP leader Parvesh Verma, a family of 12 divided their votes between Mr. Verma and the AAP’s candidate Narender Singh. “Last time we voted for the Congress but we were very disappointed with the party. This year, we decided to support the BJP and the AAP hoping one of them wins,” said an elderly family representative.
While the polling booths at Navjivan Camp in Kalkaji and Indira Kalyan Vihar in Tughlakabad saw huge turnouts, it was a weak crowd at the Jaitpur polling station in Badarpur by late afternoon. Shaily Saini and Premlata were on election duty since 7 a.m. and both booth level officers found the lean period a good time to cast their own votes. “There have been no incidents so far,” said Shaily. “Lets see we still have an hour of polling to go.”
(With inputs from Vatsal Vasudev)