How ‘booth agents’ of Kerala’s big parties guard each polling station on voting day

Party cadres are sent to booths in all 140 constituencies of Kerala to spot malpractices and stop booth capturing.
People voting in front of polling booth in Kerala
People voting in front of polling booth in Kerala

A few metres away from any polling station in Kerala on Tuesday, one is likely to spot a shed with a mesha (wooden table) and a kasala (chair) with at least three party workers nearby. The table-chair set up is colloquially termed a ‘booth office’, and the party workers populating the sheds are sent there with a purpose.

Between 7 am to 6 pm on Tuesday, when Kerala votes, these party cadres keenly watch over the booths they have been allotted, checking voter lists and reporting electoral malpractices among other duties. Every major political party in Kerala, like in other states, has an established system of deploying ‘booth agents’ on election day, to ensure voting goes on without glitches for their candidates.

The Congress in Kerala has deployed four booth agents for every polling station in the state. There are 40,771 booths across 140 Assembly constituencies in the state this election. “These booth agents check and cross off voters who have cast their votes, and contact those who have not voted, to come and vote. This list of those who have not yet voted is taken from the polling agents who get to sit inside the booths,” says MP Vincent, District Congress Committee President of Thrissur.

The polling agents are quite different from booth agents. Each candidate gets to have one polling agent seated inside a booth at a time, to ensure that no rigging takes place. The polling agents will have exact numbers of voters who cast their votes and those who didn’t. These lists are passed on to booth agents who are seated outside via a known person or when the polling agent finishes their shift and comes out.

“On getting the lists, the booth agents will ring up electors who have not turned up or send people to remind them to come and vote. They will have a fair idea of who votes for their party and works with that information,” an official from the Congress party in Kerala added.

Reporting malpractices

Among the most important duties of the ‘booth agents’ is reporting malpractices, and in rare cases preventing booth capturing. Booth capturing is when hired goons or cadres of parties capture a polling booth, shut it down and cast votes in place of legitimate voters to make a particular candidate win. Several instances of booth capturing have been reported across India. Deploying booth agents builds a bulwark against such blatant malpractices.

“Having our cadres deployed at booths is very important for us. The CPI(M) have been known to dispatch an ink-remover chemical to erase the ink of voters. These kinds of malpractices are very common here in Kerala and we need people to watch out and report this,” Vincent alleges.

For every panchayat in the state, the Congress has deployed an in-charge who deploys cadres to booths in their area. Each of these panchayat in-charges report to a person in-charge of that Assembly Constituency and the The AC in-charges of a district report to the DCC president of that district.

“The system is being monitored by the high command, with the KPCC (Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee) calling us up for regular updates. The All India Congress Committee (AICC) has also appointed an observer for every district who is also updated on ground level activities,” Vincent says.

For the CPI(M), the booth agents system is different and more elaborate. The party divides bigger regions with one polling station into two or sometimes three units, for convenience. “These smaller units are also locally known as booths, and might consist of 70 to 100 houses. Each of these booths have a booth secretary and comrades working under him,” explains a party worker from the CPI(M) office in Thrissur. In fact, the CPI(M)’s system is such that for every 10 houses, there is a party worker deployed for campaigning and voting.

“There might be multiple roads leading to a polling booth. We make sure booth offices are set up on all these roads, so that we can check who the voters are coming in to cast their votes. The information we collect is sent to other booth offices. Now we do it via WhatsApp or calls and need not physically go,” the CPI(M) worker says.

Be it the Congress or the CPI(M), both parties extend their booth agent services to their allies. “We look at the candidates as LDF candidates and not just CPI(M). So even in constituencies where our allies are contesting and we are not, our cadres will be there to ensure that the voting is running smoothly,” the CPI(M) worker adds.

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