If the accolades it receives from the people across the State are any indicator, the Election Commission of India has already emerged as a winner of sorts in Punjab, where the elections to the 117-member Assembly are scheduled for January 30.

While searches of vehicles and premises by the police and security forces are reminiscent of the days of terrorism, the people in general exude confidence that the Commission had almost succeeded in ensuring that money, muscle and narcotics would not be able to influence voting this time. A cross-section affirms that while a level playing field has been provided to the candidates, the citizens are not being harassed in the run-up to the polls.

The crackdown has so far led to the seizure of almost Rs. 32.47 crore of unaccounted cash, 25 quintals of ‘bhukki' (poppy husk), 12,136 litres of illicit liquor, 4.72 lakh bottles of country liquor, 82 quintals of lahan (molasses to brew country liquor), 10 kg of opium, 6.3 kg heroin and 2 kg of smack. While the citizens voluntarily deposited 2,05,515 licensed arms, the authorities seized 65 unlicensed arms and 244 cartridges. So far, 20 cases had been registered, while 8,982 non-bailable warrants were executed and 6,488 persons bound down under various sections of law.

The Commission has spared none. An FIR was registered against the first woman president of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC), Bibi Jagir Kaur, and her family for attempting to distribute liquor. Kaur is an Akali Dal candidate from the Bholath constituency. A similar case was registered against Rajinder Beri, a Congress candidate from Jalandhar Central. The premises of Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal's staunch supporters were also searched. Media houses have been served notices for alleged violations of the model code of conduct.

However, this correspondent found that women, especially in remote villages, are a relieved lot. Septuagenarian Bachan Kaur aka ‘Badi Bibi' in the remote Barnala village says: “Unlike in the previous elections, men do not return drunk and harass the families. On earlier occasions, they would throw a tantrum, throw away fresh ‘chappatis' on the pretext that they were not warm enough, smash utensils and even beat up the wives.”

Charanjit and his friends at Kotkapura are relieved that the candidates they supported could not deploy them to “force” people to sport their party flags and posters on the houses in their vicinity. Jeevan Jumar in Dhuri says attempts by parties in the past to ensure that the maximum number of flags fluttered led to bad blood.

Businessmen and traders of Barnala said tight arrangements had spared them the din of electioneering. They wondered how the slack administrative machinery could become so efficient and driven under the Commisssion. “The same officials at the cutting-edge, delivering much better results, indicates that those at the helm need some conviction, and good governance would no longer be a dream.”

Interestingly, candidates of different hues are also relieved that they can cite the strict enforcement of the model code of conduct as a valid excuse for washing their hands of any allurement to voters. But people believe that most contestants had made arrangements to fund their “routine” campaigns. With the Commission tightening the noose, the “expenses” have fallen drastically, which would translate into major “savings,” the results notwithstanding.