I met him the day after. The process of voting , counting, checking, approving, announcing and congratulating had been completed. The die had been cast in a mould, that was both familiar as well as expected. The young, smart and intelligent government officer, Niaz Chishti was back in his office, struggling with the files that had piled up in his absence. His cool and calm demeanor did not indicate that he had done or experienced any thing extraordinary just a day earlier. He was deeply involved in the mundane inanities and banalities that occupy much of his office rituals, and my question seemed an out of place intervention. “Niaz how did it go yesterday? ”, I was straight to the point, not being able to hide my inquisitiveness. “Well it was fine. We were free by 10 PM”, he replied in a matter of fact tone, as if becoming a referendum presiding officer was his weekly routine. “ How many people voted at your polling station?”. I wanted to get to the bottom line fast. “ One hundred and twenty five – to be exact” he replied. “ Is that not rather a small number” was my next remark. “Yes, it is. So we made it 900 after the polling time was over”, he replied casually, as if that was the standard operating procedure. “ But why on earth did you do this. You mean you did this yourself, or did some one else do it, or were you forced to do it?” I asked a number of questions in the same breath, unsuccessfully controlling my bewilderment and anger. It is now that he realized that something was amiss and there was more to what he had done than he made out to be. So he started to explain.
“ Please listen to me and try to understand. We were doing perfectly fine from morning till 6 PM. Then came the local SHO with three other constables and asked how many votes had been cast. When we told him the exact number, he simply said that we were required to make this close to 900 and the ‘yes’ vote must be around 98 percent. He warned that the ballot boxes would not be accepted at the returning station, unless they had that many votes. We therefore had no choice, but to stamp the remaining votes ourselves. You see we did not want to spend the rest of the night in this argument.”
Niaz resumed his work from where he had last left. He had no sense of guilt, remorse or embarrassment . He did his duty as told by the goons of the state machinery. He never used his own mind, leave alone his conscience. I walked out thinking that the only way the chief beneficiary of this exercise can redeem himself is to declare this referendum null and void. It may also be Honorable to publicly admit that massive rigging had taken place, and to proceed against elements of the state machinery that acted more loyal than the king himself.
3rd May 2002