KOHIMA, February 23, 1998: Outside the Indoor Badminton Stadium in the Kohima Town constituency, Congress and opposition party workers stand behind desks issuing identity slips to whoever was interested to vote.

I walked up to one such desk at 2 p.m. and said: “I want to vote.” The gentleman asked for my name, I gave him my real name, he scrutinised the voters list and handed me a big identity slip. I was to cast a vote for Maya, 30-year-old daughter of Puren Lama.

The queue outside the polling booth had degenerated into a boisterous crowd of college students clutching bundles of identity slips, struggling to get in. A few Bihari labourers were also waiting to get in. After a 10-minute struggle, I got in.

On the green, hard badminton court, officials were sitting behind a long desk. The polling officials took my identity slip and checked his voters list. Serial no. 10, Maya, had already voted.

I told them that I wanted to vote. They asked me to talk to the presiding officer. “Too much proxy voting isgoing on today,” the presiding officer said. He walked up to two men, sitting at a desk besides the polling officials, tickmarking the serial numbers of voters on whose behalf votes were being cast. “Please do something for this lady. She wants to cast a vote,” he told them.

They handed me a new identity slip. This time in the name of Akholie, 25-year-old daughter of Pitovi. I handed the slip to the same polling official. He again checked the voters list. It was serial no. 93 and the vote had been cast.

Again, back to the man issuing identity slips. This time, it was Tsoinou. The 19-year-old daughter of Vizo. Serial no 698.

The polling official verified again. No vote had been cast yet.

I was asked to sign or put my thumb impression. I signed my real name and was then handed two ballot papers: no. 229593 for the parliamentary election and no. 13663 for the Kohima Town assembly seat. I was now entitled to vote.

Welcome to Nagaland’s contribution to the greatest democratic exercise on Planet Earth. The Congress has already won a majority in the Assembly as in 43 of the 60 constituencies its candidates have been elected unopposed. The Bharatiya Janata Party and the regional Nagaland People’s Council and the Nationalist Democratic Movement did not field candidates.

Outside the polling station at the Indoor Stadium in Kohima Town constituency, multiple identity slips were being handed over to whoever was willing to vote. Kamal Shah, of Bihar, stood patiently in the long queue to cast a vote on behalf of B.R. Sharma. Vinod was clutching the identity slip of H Rai, Bhagwan Shah had the slip of Jitender Gupta.

The bogus voters were not told to stamp on any particular party symbol. Most of the organisers were local students. Though most said that they “mentally support the boycott call”, they had to ensure a decent turn out for the sake of the candidates who were known to them.

In the polling booth at Jyotsoma village, a stronghold of the NSCN’s Khaplang faction, in the western Angami constituency 424 votes had been cast till 12 noon. In the queue outside the polling booth stood 22-year-old Atounuo, a college student. She was going to cast a vote on behalf of 45-year-old Nithungiyo. The polling official at the booth said that the problem of wrong names and age was simply because of a faulty voters list.

Chief electoral office Lalthara said this evening that voting averaged 42 per cent, though the figure could change after reports “from the interior areas are received”.

Copyright © 1998 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.