Sunday, April 30, 2006

Come Fly With Me (Updated with Part II)

Part II

Thanks to this article, I got inspired to complete the second part of this post - Part I is at the end of Part II.

While in the air, you observe the most outstanding differences between Indian and Jet Airways.

I always considered Indian to be a very concerned airline, for many reasons. One of the main reasons is that they always believe in "safety first". I have seen ,at more than one instance, the airhostess literally shouting at passengers for not wearing their seat-belts when the sign is on. This is quite a "healthy" practice, and passengers cannot really complain.

Talking about health, again here Indian scores over Jet. At Indian, they believe in a healthy diet. So they do not give you the option of a Veg or Non Veg meal, but insist you have a Veg meal. Its healthy after all and reduces your cholesterol, thereby minimizing the chances of a heart attack - which you have all the chances of experiencing on-board their flights. Last I heard, they were considering a fruitarian meal. It is also funny how during an Indian flight, whether it is a 40 minute flight or a 4 hour one, there is always a scramble to clear the trays just before landing. You have the hostesses screaming "sir, gimme the tray, we are about to land!!" or "m'am if you dont give the tray now you are gonna keep it on your lap and land!!"

Anyway, it is only during landing that you realise why Indian has chosen its tag-line. Landing is always a very uncertain proposition in an Indian flight. I would suggest you carefully listen to the "assuring" noises of the landing gear and wheels locking-in from around 15 mintues before you destination. If you do not hear these noises and the loud thud of the wheels locking, pray hard. If you are lucky, then the landing gear works fine and you are all set to land. Else you might have "unexpected" circling around the airport, with technical guys and engineers trying to push out the gear or something. Okay this doesn't happen too often, but I know atleast 3 or 4 such incidents in the last 10 years or so.

Once the gear is down, you have the plane descending, but swaying side to side.. as though the pilot is unsure which runway to land on..Finally if you have prayed hard enough, the plane lands on a runway and not on a field. And always be aware that more than 50% of the Indian airlines flights land twice which means that after the first touch-down the flight usually bumps off and touches down once more. I guess its because the shock absorbers are excellent. After touch down you again experience great turbulence with the pilot trying to keep the aircraft on the tarred portion of the airfield. I am proud to say that 95 out of 100 times they manage to do it. God be with you, if you are in one of the 5 planes who do not stay on the runway. As you celebrate your landing, smile in relief and kiss your co-passenger, you remember the tag-line for Indian Airlines and make sense of it all... "Let your heart fly". I am sure it truly did, especially during landing. 10 on 10 for their tag-line!

Well, to cut the long story short, I feel Jet has struggled and worked hard to give their tag-line "Joy of Flying" a lot of meaning. You notice that at every step their customers are taken care of, and that too in courteous and respectable manners. It is no wonder then during a survey, out of 10,000 customers, only 9 people responded with minor negative comments giving a satisfaction rate of 99.99% for Jet Airways. Now that is one company I have learnt to respect. And I hope they maintain the same standards and principles forever.

Part I

Around two weeks ago, I missed my Jet Airway's flight because I managed to reach the airport only 10 minutes before departure by which time they had seated someone else instead of me, closed the boarding gates and started warming the engines as well. The lady at the ticketing counter apologised and said "Sorry sir, we were overbooked today and you won't be able to fly with us, but that I can put you on Air Deccan". Suddenly I felt light headed, as though I was losing balance, people around me blurred, my head spun..I saw oxygen masks dropping, and I thought I heard someone shout "may day!".
"No miss, I will take your flight tomorrow" I said recovering from the shock.
She smiled and scribbled something on my ticket and asked me to come the next day, and assured me I will fly tomorrow.

The next day I reached an hour early, not wanting to risk another shock treatment. I was promptly greeted at the entrance by the Jet Airway's Airport manager who escorted me to the check-in counter, apologising profusely despite my assurance it was entirely my fault. He checked me in through the priority counter, upgraded me to first class for free and put a fluorescent "priority" tag on all my luggages. I was pretty sure if I gave him anything less than a big smile and incessant thank yous, he woulda placed another tag on me as well! Anyway I boarded the plane all pampered..and that inspired me to complete this post, which I had left half way long time ago.

Now I have always wondered how and why airliners choose their tag-lines. I figured most of them out except for Sahara Airlines, which said "emotionally yours"!! I mean I have felt sad for them at times, but never had the luck to fly with someone so sentimental. Air Deccan started off the transformation of the Indian aviation industry with its "Simplifly" planes, but it didnt take long for them to realise it wasnt that simple. As much as I remember in terror their first flight, which caught fire while taxi-ing on the runway, I really appreciate the Captain and his team for the guts to single-handedly open up the skies for the common man. I also remember the other "also flew's" like Modiluft, East West, Damania and others who couldn't live up to what it takes.

So now we have Jet Airway's which is now comparable to our own Indian (Airlines) in size and scale of operations, and one cannot help wonder what differentiates this public vs private thingie everybody talks about, as well as what it takes to be a good and respected airline.

The difference actually begins at the time you begin booking your ticket, but I will not get into that assuming that you do it through your travel agent and you are not adventurous enough to do it yourself, or try something like e-ticketing! If you are, I am sure you know its another story altogether.

Anyway, if you manage to get to the airport on time you will begin to appreciate the horrors, and it is usually "the earlier, the worse". Indian airports also require a separate post altogether, if not a series, and we shall refrain from getting excited and talking about the IAAI. At the airport you will find a stark contrast between the Jet vs Indian counters. Jet is always manned by neatly dressed staff carrying wireless sets to communicate with eachother, always smiling and receptive. But Indian is always a commotion, with the staff screaming at eachother, from one corner of the airport to the other. Right from the time you have arrived to check-in, to baggage allowance, to security check, Indian is always trying to give you a "No" for answer.

"No saar, you have come 5 minutes late, someone else has been given your seat so please pay 50% of the fare"

"No no no..impossible sir, you are carrying 21 kilos while the limit is just 20 kilos. Please open your bag and lets see what I can take"

"Please come back after 10 minutes, you canNOt do security check now!"

But ofcourse, all this is for your own safety, so we dont mind.

Phew!! You manage to make it past the security check and you await boarding call. This is the one time you really dont make out any difference whichever airline you fly. You just wait. And irrespective of the airline, you get to see all the pilots, captains and (ehemm!!) hostesses parade by. There is hardly anything else you can do in any of our airports, and I dont have the faintest idea why anyone with even an iota of sense would oppose airport privatisation.

And then they wake you up with that call for boarding. There is a slight difference in the language, accent and clarity of speech but thats pardonable and usually not too evident when it all comes out through the mike and speakers of IAAI. Now the boarding call at Indian literally means another havoc at the gate. You have over 100 passengers suddenly going into frenzy and rioting to form a line! And for some reason, if one of them lost a place in the line its enough to set off a mini-battle! It dawned upon me suddenly why they say Indian Airlines is still a Crowd Puller! Jet again in contrast, first boards the front section of the flight, then the mid and only then the third section.

8 out of 10 times, I have walked in the sun to an Indian Airlines plane to board, while 10 out of 10 times I have been driven in a bus to the Jet aircraft.

Only 2 out of 10 times have I been greeted with a smile while boarding an Indian (despite me making an effort to smile and wish), while 10 out of 10 times on a Jet airline I have been greeted and welcomed aboard. The two times they did supposedly say "welcome" and "namaskar" on Indian to me, they were looking at someone else or had their backs towards me. But I have to admit there was this young lady on Indian who was one of the most well behaved hostesses I have ever met. But I dont see her these days, so she has probably quit or been poached.

Now that we are on-board Indian, we are seated (literally!!) by a stern looking grumpy 45 year old Kokila at the forward section, 28 year old harassed and unhappy looking Sweta at the first class and 54 year old Matilda who works at the rear and just gives everyone a glance from back there. All three have "dont mess with me" written allover their faces! They double up as deterrent for any hijacks and unruly behaviour. At the same time, on board Jet there is Melissa, Shreya and Tina, all three in their early 20 somethings, to welcome you on-board with a smile, hello and "can I take your bag, sir?"". Oh! I forgot to say, Tina is apparently Matilda's second daughter.

Soon you are served coffey bites on Indian, which most of our Indians stow away by the dozen into their pockets, while on Jet you are given a warm face towel and a welcome fresh lime drink. While you are being served, you get generous doses of "sit!!!" "put your seatbelts!!!" and "no!!" from Indian hostesses, while the Jet staff always prefix a "please" or "kindly" and most of the times speak in full sentences.

Jet: "Ladies and gentlemen, this is Tina and I'm your chief flight attendant. On behalf of Captain Siddharth and the entire crew, I would like to welcome you aboard Jet Airlines flight JWXXX, from XXX to XXX. Our flight time will be of 2 hours and 15 minutes....... We advise you that as of this moment, any electronic equipment must be please turned off. Thank you."

Indian: " "Ladies and gentlemen, On behalf of Captain Kusni (????!!) and the Asst in Command (long pause while she finds out the name) Karthik, I would like to welcome you aboard Indian Airlines flight ICXXX, from XXX to XXX. We apologise for the delay and it is due to the late arrival of this aircraft from its previous sector (coughs and clears her throat). Switch of any electronic equipment you have."

Jet: "Ladies and gentlemen, we have just been cleared for take-off. Cabin Crew, please be seated and prepare for take-off."

Indian: "Crew..pre (static) ga ba la...takeoffff"

Of late, there is a serious concern that I have while on-board Indian. They now say "keep your windows up for safe landing and take off" !!!!?!?!??!?! I have heard stories(and even experienced once) of wheels falling off Indian Airlines flights and engines catching fire. Is this an official warning that such instances are possible any time and it is for the responsible passenger to spot these?? So keep an eye or two!

Anyway, if you are lucky enough you are off the bumpy asphalted runway on time, if not it might take upto 1 hour or more and at times a few skid offs.

But it is not until you are up in the air ,that you begin to realise the true differences between Indian and Jet Airways! But then theres no escape!

To be continued...
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Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Dude, Where is my "Oola Ppera" ?

One of the most visible development indicators of any area is the condition of the houses.

I remember in the old days when I was growing up, there were a lot of “oola Pera’s” in my neighborhood and on the roadsides that I used to travel. Suddenly sometime after mid nineties, sort of an “oode” revolution started to take over the roofs of many poor folks’ houses in my village. Many rebuilt their small huts made with muddy walls into modest homes with “oode” (Tile) roofing and strong brick walls. Shitty floors (literally) were replaced with smooth cement. Even one of our neighboring family who missed out on this housing revolution, managed to get their roof upgraded from coconut “oola” to “Pana oola” during this period.

Building a stable, non-leaking roof over the head was the “chirakaala abilasham” of many of these families. I am really happy that they made this difficult transition from Oola to Oode after years of waiting.
Interestingly, as far as I have noticed, the capital that they used to build these better habitats hasn’t come as a result of an improved economy. Rather it is the financial help from NGOs (mainly the church) and the housing grants from Panchayath that helped them to make the final move

By the time I left Kerala in early 2000, I could hardly see any “Oola Pperas” on the roadsides. To spot any, I really would have to look deep into the interiors. The rush of the ladies trying to snatch up falling coconut leaves has died down. The lovely craft of weaving coconut leaves had also became a rarity by then. Coconut leaves must have felt so used and unwanted.

Statistics do support a statewide roofing revolution that happened in our state over the last few decades. As I understand now from the stats, my neighbors’ roofs’ were just late entrants to this revolution. According to Kerala planning board document, percentage of households that use modern roofing materials went up from 26% in 1961 to 75% in 1991 to 89% in 2001. Impressive by Indian standard and is in consistent with Kerala’s tradition of development.

Yet the data of the roofed houses is an excellent example of Kerala’s paradox in development. In one side, Kerala’s development trajectory is moving up the ladder as upgrades from Ola to Pana Ola to Asbestos sheets, to Oode and to finally concrete, but at the same time our youths in the same villages are left to walk north south in their own ‘angaadies’ and forced to live elsewhere to put food under their roof! This is the great irony of Kerala!
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Saturday, April 22, 2006

The f(p)light of Gulf returnees

After reading mindcurry's post , an incident I had stowed deep into my mind demanded that it be brought to light.

And it seems all such incidents happen when I am on my way back to my home , my motherland.. Well here goes ..

I was returning to kerala after an overseas assignment , and since I my flight was courtesy Qatar airways , I had to catch my connection flight to "Trivendrooom" at Doha. The halt was 5 hours long and I had a good opportunity to look at the multitude of people god had created. In spite of a mighty headache it was a good experience.

I had to board from gate no:6 , the flight was at 12:55 , well , 1 o'clock in the morning.There were a lot of tired but happy looking malayalees waiting to get back home. There were a few foreigners too . As it happens always , the no: of chairs at the waiting area were about 2% of what was actually required . So I was obliged to sit on the floor , but the spot I chose to sit turned out to be a vantage point .From where I sat , I could see the gate no:s 5 , 4, and 3 too. There were a lot of people going to Europe from there and it was nice watching them and the Qatar Airways Officials.

No one at the gates seemed bothered by the rather bulky things people took aboard ..that is , until the call for the flight to Trivandrum came. A Van Damme-ish looking guy along with a beautiful but surly faced ( shew ! ) girl were manning the counter at the gate. The passenger's ticket/boarding pass would be checked and then.. Van Damme will ask the passenger to hand over their hand baggage , lift it with a "OMFG it weighs a tonne!!!" expression and shake his head sadly. As if on cue the girl ( Van dam was assisting the girl ) would ask the passenger to "Please hand over the baggage to be send in along with the main luggage " . The passenger would try a feeble protest and will be met with stone faced stares and sad shaking of heads . Invariably the hand luggage went to the main cargo hold. I put on my best "don't bother me expression " jammed in my Mp3 player's ear buds deeper into my ears and went along casually. If my hand baggage went in along with the main luggage it would be a big problem . You see , mine was a laptop bag , but all it contained was a lot of chocolates , a few papers and a Canon Powershot for my Sister. I wanted the chocos and the cam to be intact .

Van Damme didn't even bother . I was waved through and so were all the foreigners , WHO ALL CARRIED BULKY HAND BAGGAGES which obviously were very heavy . They all had a Mohanlal style tilt to the side which they carried their bags on.Oh Come on , it was obvious that they carried a lot more than 7 kgs. It was like the Qatar airways people were bent on harassing the malayalees alone. They did leave out two couples.. Both carried babies and all the stuff associated with them . But all the rest were really unhappy by the time they were inside the gate. Most of them were dudes who toiled to make life good for the average Qatar citizen.They had a right to be treated fairly. Half of them actually didn't know what was happening. They tried a mild protest and gave up. One of them told me that this was because they knew that "resistance is futile". This has been happening for so many years that this was routine and they were kinda OK with it. I was not . Why were these people being treated without respect ? It was sick watching this thing happening.

Flipside :

As MC pointed out , they ( the "harassed" malayalees ) downed liquor like it was the last drops of water they may ever get to taste. Most of them were drunk by the time the plane touched down at TVM . Of course the dread of what the customs officials might do to their pockets had sobered them up . A couple of days after I returned I read that two of us Mallus had got drunk on an airplane , started a fight , tried grabbing an Airhostess' ass and ended up getting pummeled by the air plane security .

When I discussed this with my boss he said that "we Malayalees have to learn to behave with dignity " . He said that he had seen people getting drunk and vomiting all over the place , and the airhostesses had to clean up the vomit after them since the stench usually got a few more of the sober passengers to vomit too. The airhostesses treated you like you were muck in return. If you are from India , in economy class , you were just glorified shit for the Air line crews .

He also said that traveling by business class - even though its expensive - is better since they treat you with some respect and courtesy and you don't get embarrassed by your countryman's behavior...

We are taught to be courteous , carry ourselves with some dignity and not to indulge in alcoholism right from the school. But are we numbskulls ? What good is education to a man if his mind isn't refined ?
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Wednesday, April 19, 2006

DOC in the news (April 19)

Fresh off the blogs: Piping hot news
Jayalakshmi Venugopal
Wednesday, April 19, 2006 02:18 IST

BANGALORE: The blogging world is closely following the Kerala and Tamil Nadu polls. Bloggers from Kerala, a politically aware state, compete with bloggers from Tamil Nadu.

The recently held a Blog-O-Poll to identify who will be Kerala's next chief minister. Oomen Chandy of the Congress won 159 votes, while his CPM rival VS Achuthanandan bagged only 23 votes.

Tamil Nadu, however, with a dozen dedicated political blogs like Arasiyal Talk, Therthal 2006 and Idly Vadai easily outnumber blogs from God's Own Country.
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Sunday, April 09, 2006

India Everywhere

After a bout of negatively toned posts, its time to spruce up our spirits and hopes, and realise what we can be. I believe the clip below has been around for a while, but its worth watching it many times over. I did. And I felt so good. I hope the same applies to each one of us, Indians.

India Inspired! : A Billion Reasons to Care

On my way home from the airport last week, the cab driver told me his story, about how he began his life as a cabbie and his family. He said he had two daughters and now wanted a son. Assuming the usual, I began scolding him for wanting a son. Then he told me it was not that he considered or treated his girls any less, but just wanted a son so that his daughters and wife will have "someone" even if something happens to him. I told him nothing will happen and to just give the best to his two girls. He also went on to tell me how "eju-cashion" was so important and he is ensuring that his girls get the best available. He told me the "eju-cashion" he is giving his girls now will guarantee they will never have to go hungry.

I was inspired, yet again.
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Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Gainfully Unemployed

Since 1999, a group of people I know have been trying to establish a noble institution in one the cities of Kerala. For almost 7 years, they battled it out with the system and establishment to get the required permits and licenses. There was a battle because the group believed in justice, rights and freedom.

Around 2002, they took a bank loan of Rs. 10 crores for the project. And personally invested around 5 crores. They dreamt of an institution that would bring services, the best around the world, closer to the people of Kerala.

As they got down to building their dream, they realised that Kerala is not infamously known as investor friendly or known for its indifference without reason.

Right from day one they have faced hurdles in the name of licenses, approvals and permits. Now it was not as though they were not qualified for these, but because they resisted giving bribes to the many officers they were "punished". And even a peon wields so much authority that unless you pay him the file will not see daylight. They even described local politicians who approached them even before the construction began and threatening them of dire consequences if their people are not offered job, irrespective of the merits. Slowly the groups loans started accruing interests, and itself began to cross crores. So after many years of resistance, they gave in to the "Kerala Model".

Appeasing politicians, paying bribes, honesty and principles going for a toss, to build an institution which stands for honesty, principles and ethics.

Today the institution functions, but yet the problems are aplenty and never-ending.

Even with all the stinking and filthy deals, they are yet faced with innumerable "hurdles". A few facts stand out:

Right from the Corporation to the Electricity board and Water Authority, almost 30 lakhs have been paid as bribe in just the last one year, from peons to higher end officers, all of them demanded money. Also they added that notably none of senior officers asked for money. Infact they were willing to help so that a good institution comes up in the city, but there were always roadblocks created by the lower end officers and local politicians.

Politicians always get involved in your life in Kerala. Right from all these permits to hiring your employees in your establishment, there is an idiot of a politician or union leader waiting to eat away the hardearned money you have.

It is difficult for a lot of people in Kerala to see anything beyond today. They never see the prospects of a development in terms of what it can bring for them and their children tomorrow or the day after. This is probably why development, in any form, is seen suspiciously in the state. Much of this attitude can be attributed to again wily politicians who corrupt peoples minds for their gains. I recently had someone on a forum say that a certain MLA is opposing the Technocity project only so that the opposite party does not take credit for it, and so he is justified!! It is such thinking that really dashes my hopes at times. I mean, this person has not realised that irrespective of that bloody MLAs stupid reasons, what the state is losing is crores worth of investment, direct and indirect, along with tens of thousands of jobs!!

Anything that happen in Kerala has to appease the local political leaders, if not they are up against arms with you. They are waiting to create trouble in any form so that they get publicity. They always take up a "pro-poor" image so that only they seem righteous. But the fact is that the poor are being robbed openly by them. The moment these politicians get some money they are willing to do any injustice. This is a very sad fact that I realised happens too commonly in Kerala. I have heard my maid servant say that even if she quarrels with her husband local party guys come and interfere, and act as if they have a say in anything that goes on in "their" society. You can imagine the level at which these wily people operate then! I have seen such things happen even in schools and colleges. When guys might have silly differences, some "union" supports one of them and then creates a mountain out of nothing. In the process the union leaders establish their authority and appear to be so right.

One important thing we have do in Kerala is to free the state from politicisation. It is so built into the fabric right from schools, that it corrupts everyone and everything. Knowledge about politics and your government process is one thing, but getting sucked into it with your life is another. We have to ensure that students educate themselves first and form a basic standard and qualification in life. Politics and government can then be an option. We have to stop the age-old trend of "nalam class and gusthi" being the only qualification needed for the MLA and MPs.

To a certain extent, unemployment is one root cause of this and Kerala stands out with the maximum number of unemployed youth. No wonder then parties promote unionism and anti-development, and project politics as a profession! Every unemployed youth is a potential employee of the party!
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Sunday, April 02, 2006

OC is the Man!!

Thought I will take the liberty to blog the majority opinion expressed in our recently concluded Blog O Poll. Ommen Chandy has won this virtual election by overwhelming margins. Hails to all those who voted in his favor. It is truly an excellent tribute to the man's dedication for the vision of a resurgent Kerala. I hope those fellow blogies who aren't forthcoming enough to trust his leadership will come to understand why so many of us admire his leadership qualities.

Ommen Chandy exemplifies a rare mix of political talents. He is popular, personable, simple in lifestyle, clean in image, diplomatic when needed, visionary in nature, positive always, sensible and reality oriented, skilled in politics, highly efficient in governance, decisive on his mission, compassionate to the needs of poor and at the same time understands the dynamics of modern development economics as good as an academic in the field , and above all he is not afraid to fully utilize his political willpower for the development of the state. In short, he is an ideal politician. Direct opposite to those who we always complain about. Keralites are damn lucky to have someone like him in the helm of the state for the last couple of years, unlike the usual 'kazhutheye meykkunna another kazhutha' type.

OC is also unique in the sense that he is pretty much the only political leader in Kerala who was brave enough to embrace the liberalization policies put forth by the central government after the 1990s financial crises. He is not afraid of (repeatedly) talking about privatization or FDI when these words were (are) political taboos in Kerala. This is not an easy thing to do while leaders from both fronts always opt to take the easy way of populism by fooling people by BS ing about illusionary socialist idealism rather confronting the realities of our state's troubling state of affairs. This is where politicians like OC (a rare breed) stands out. Only their kinds have the vision, legitimacy and political willpower to lead Kerala to a higher orbit of development.

Finally, please read this remarkable article to see OC’s thoughts on Kerala’s past, present and future. He has the best insight on our states issues (both positive and negetive) than anybody I have heard from so far, be it from a politician or otherwise.
OC is the Man!!
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Saturday, April 01, 2006

Blog-o-Poll 2006 Results

Our Blog-o-poll has drawn to an end and we have completed the counting process.

We are pleased that the polling was relatively free and devoid of major incidents, except for two incidents which required the Kerala Police to fire in the air, resulting in the injury of 8 people. We commend the police personnel for exercising restraint. Both the incidents occured when miscreants dressed as party workers attempted at creating panic at the poll stations and attacked people who came to exercise their right to vote. There were also 6 arrests made when these people attempted to vote twice.

A total of 159 votes have been received and accepted.

The bloggers have given Chief Minister Oommen Chandy a resounding victory with 91 votes (57%).

The second place is for V.S Achuthanandan with a distant 23 votes or 14%.

Party wise, the Congress tops the poll with 57% votes under the single-handed leadership of OC. Both Achu and Pinarayi have managed to gather 22% of votes together for LDF. BJP as usual was a non-reckoner in Kerala. DIC(K)'s managed to get 4% of the votes.

Most interestingly, which perhaps reflects most accurately the actual voter mentality in Kerala was the fact that 6% of people said they will not vote and 3% did not have a voter ID card.

We congratulate the winners, and most importantly the voters for exercising their right to vote and being a part of the process to build the nation. We would also like to request the people who did not vote to make a wiser decision for the actual polls.

Every Vote Counts!

P.S. For some, the statement "Every Vote Counts" might be misleading, and they might want to read this as "Every vote counts, do vote only once!"

P.P.S. The results were supposed to be released on April 1st, but the Chief Election Commissioner was injured and out of action. Even now he types with one hand.
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