New Delhi, Jan 24, 2020: Though frail and hunched, Kalitara Mandal, a 110-year-old resident of south Delhi’s Chittaranjan Park, has a strong resolve, especially when it comes to exercising her franchise. Mandal, who hails from Barishal (now in south-central Bangladesh), said she remembered voting in pre-independence India and, more recently, in the 2019 Lok Sabha election, Hindustan Times.
“I will vote till I am alive. I had first voted before the Partition while I still lived in Barishal,” said Mandal, who is the oldest among the 150 centenarians registered with the Delhi’s chief electoral officer (CEO) ahead of the February 8 Delhi Assembly polls.
In last year’s general election, Mandal’s grandson drove her to the polling station, from where she walked inside to cast her vote. But this year, her family has registered for a postal ballot.
Till now meant for voters in the armed forces, the postal ballot service— in an initiative by the state election office for the first time in Delhi—has been extended to voters above the age of 80 years and for persons with disabilities.
Asked if she remembered whom she voted for before the Partition, Mandal said she did not, but she recalled voting for former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi after independence.
“After the Partition, we lived in a refugee camp for a long time. We were then given a place in Chhattisgarh and we moved there. I remember the hand (Congress’ party symbol) party coming to the doorsteps of the people who had just moved,” she said, as her youngest son Sukh Ranjan Mandal (53) translated for his Bangla-speaking mother who had readied for the interview on her own.
Mandal first came to Delhi when her eldest son moved here in 1978, but became a permanent resident after her second son moved here and set up a business in 1984. Her house is covered under the Greater Kailash Assembly constituency.
“I remember Indira Gandhi’s death when whole of Delhi had turned into a conflict zone. I kept voting for the party until 2014, when I saw Modi (PM Narendra Modi) on television. That was the first time I voted for phool (Lotus, the BJP’s party symbol),” the 110-year-old said.
When asked if she knows the current political leaders in Delhi, she said she only knows “hath” and “phool”, the two party symbols.
While Mandal is among the 4,000 citizens over 80 years of age who have opted for the postal ballot—a service they were informed of by the booth-level officers (BLO) during the verification exercise and offered a Form 12(D)—there are other centenarians who will continue to walk to the polling booths. One among them is 107-year-old resident of Tughlaqabad Extension, Kitabun Nisa.
“So far, nobody from the election office has come to inform about postal ballot. We only got a call from the election officials enquiring if my mother was still alive or not. I have been taking her to the polling booth for all the previous elections. She plans to go out this time as well,” said her son Shah Mohammad as Nisa struggled to speak.
BLOs are required to visit each household to verify voters in each house.