Indian elections have commenced and the numbers are quite unbelievable: 900 million voters, 11 million poll workers, 4 million electronic voting machines, 1 million polling booths and 570 designated trains for migrant workers and security forces.
Such numbers for Indian elections convey the scale of the world’s biggest democratic exercise. But smaller numbers reveal India’s commitment to reach every voter, no matter how remote, writes Washington Post.
In India’s six-week marathon election that began last week, the Election Commission has ruled that no voters should have to travel more than 2 kilometres or just over a mile, from their home to cast a ballot, whether they live on a Himalayan peak or an island in the Bay of Bengal.
The polling booth in Gir Forest National Park in Gujarat is set up for the sole human inhabitant, a Hindu priest who lives among the lions. Polling officials hike for a whole day to reach the remote village of Malogam in Arunachal Pradesh, where just one woman is registered to vote.
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Poll workers must cross mountains, rivers, deserts, forests and national parks. The work entails arduous journeys by train, road, helicopter and boat, accompanied by porters who carry the briefcase-size voting machines, registers, ink and other election paraphernalia on their backs.
In Arunachal Pradesh, a state in India’s northeast that borders Bhutan, China and Myanmar and where voting took place Thursday, most polling stations are located inside the dense, Himalayan forest.
Poll workers set off a week before the vote. The first leg of the journey was a three-hour drive from Changlang to the city of Maio.
From Maio, the next stop was Vijoynagar, about 100 miles away, via the Namdapha National Park. No road connects the two towns, and the terrain is subject to frequent flash floods and landslides. Journeys here are measured in days. The team reached Vijoynagar by Indian Air Force helicopter. In pre-monsoon time, bad weather can ground flights. That’s why a week’s leeway is given to the team. If all else fails, it’s six days to reach Vijoynagar by foot.
From Vijoynagar, the caravan walked the final leg of their odyssey to the polling station of Gandhigram. It is only 7.5 miles from Vijoynagar, but the trek takes eight hours, through eerily dark jungles where no sunlight steals through the canopy and under constant threat of an ambush by a herd of elephants. The marathon expedition to Gandhigram was all for 242 voters.
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