It was election time again at the combined Army sectors of 28, 29 and 37, Noida. Given this RWA election was happening after a gap of 27 long months, the excitement in the battleground was almost palpable. It was time to choose their new Chairman - yes, that's what the RWA chief is called here.
It was a Sunday and the Arun Vihar community centre - converted into a polling centre - was buzzing with activity. The road outside the centre was lined up with white chalk powder. The parking slots were also marked. Manning the main gate were the supporters of each candidate, volunteers and security personnel. The two contesting candidates wore warm smiles as they greeted the residents. Some saluted them in true army fashion.
The battle between Colonel OP Mehta and Lt Col (retired) MS Matharoo was about to begin.
"Col. Mehta has held the top post twice in the past - first in 2003 and then in 2011. People know his work. Lt Col (retired) MS Matharoo is also well known among the residents. He is an active member of one rank one pension movement," a resident said.
Outsiders weren't allowed beyond a certain point. We (reporter and photographer) had to register our names a day in advance to cover the elections. As we entered, we couldn't but feel the resemblance of the neighbourhood to a cantonment area. Tables were lined up with stickers bearing the ward names. Pleasant young residents sitting behind the tables helped voters with slips and tips. A huge hall was converted into a polling station manned by ex army officials and young volunteers.
It was only after checking your voters slips that you were allowed in. Once the vote was cast, residents went out from the exit door that opened out to a large lawn with a shamiana in place. Potted plants were neatly arranged on the red clay floor. This was where residents were treated to the added incentive of coming out and voting. The incentive was food. Long buffet tables were loaded with a variety of dishes and desserts. In the lawn, under a pleasant sun, residents lounged about feasting on warm gulab jamuns and gajar ka halwa, even as they speculated the outcome of the elections.
Zoom to the room behind the hall which was now a counting booth. The last box was being counted. "Colonel OP Mehta is leading," someone whispered. Another resident drew attention to the body language of Lt Col (retired) MS Matharoo - it was that of a candidate defeated. His shoulders were dropping.
OP Mehta seemed to be a popular choice. Rajiv Sharma of Sector 29 didn't reveal his choice, but hinted that a lot of residents feel that Col. Mehta is the perfect replacement for Brigadier Ashok Hak - the outgoing chairman.
The countdown began. Everyone waited, anxious.
Finally, the big moment. Time to declare the new Chairman. Election officer Col. Shardool Singh appeared from behind the door of the counting centre. He stood on the platform in the middle of the lawn. Smiled. And announced the result in a style as if it was a Big Boss show. Lt Col (retired) MS Matharoo bagged 388 votes, he announced. And then with a pregnant pause, he said, Colonel OP Mehta has polled 524 votes.
Mehta burst into a spontaneous jig. His supporters joined him. He won the AVRWA elections with a margin of 136 votes. He had become a chairman for the third time - a record by itself.
Mehta vowed to carry his predecessor Brigadier (retired) Ashok Hak's pet projects forward. "I thank all voters for choosing me. Our ex-chairman had done a commendable job for the betterment of these sectors, and I would complete his unfinished task, beginning with safety and security of Arun Vihar," he said.
Hak, on his part, hugged Mehta warmly and promised to extend support - be it for the development of a sport complex, an eco-park, renovation of sewage pipeline or be it for improvement of drinking water pipelines. As the senior vice president of FONRWA (Federation of Noida Residents Welfare Association), Hak said he would use his good offices with Noida Authority to get these remaining works done.
Needless to say, the election was a well-organised affair. Planning and preparation were done well in advance. Footfall was unprecedented: Around 1,000 voters turned came out to elect the new chairman and four ward directors.
One of the highlights of the election this time was the lunch - it was arranged for all residents after a gap of two past elections. That definitely gave the election a festive flavour. "The election was conducted in a very civil and social manner. I could exercise my right without any hassle," said Pramod Agrawal, a resident of Sector 37.
Besides the chairman, the election also threw up a new set of Ward Directors that included Lt Col. Mohan Singh, Col. GS Salklan, Col. MK Chopra and Shakuntla Devi.
It was a Sunday well spent for residents of Arun Vihar.