Updated 9 Mar 2022, 5:01 am
The first phase of Manipur Assembly polls 2022 for 38 ACs on February 28 was comparatively peaceful after large-scale pre-poll violence was witnessed, though there were allegations of rigging and booth capturing. This was expected as in the past, especially in the hills and interior, voting was done by a few supported by armed groups. This time even in ACs around Imphal, rigging were reportedly common. The modus operandi in one AC is when people line up before the polling booth, some workers give money and collect the voter’s slip and make the person leave and voting is done by a few.
Unfortunately, the second phase held on March 5 turned violent, leading to deaths and arson. There is a tendency to capture booths at the villages near the residence of a candidate while canvassing of other candidates was not even allowed. Further, crude bombs were placed at strategic places to create a sense of insecurity. The bombs were crude not like the IEDs placed by UG groups. This indicates that the bomb makers are amateurs and there are past cases of people placing such crude bombs at their residences to show threat perception and seek escorts. If the police are allowed free hand the culprits can be caught in a day or two.
Not a Good Sign!
There are claims of wrong doings in many polling stations and such claims must be enquired into before a final decision. The election 2022 is a turning point in the electoral history of the state where brute muscle power was utilised and election is now looking like that of West Bengal. Not a good sign and such mischievous acts will become the norm in future elections. The claim that a party will win a majority of two third in the House, is perhaps based not on the wish and desire of the people but on the ability to rig or capture booths.
Indian election is said to be a festival of democracy. Yes there is an element of festivity but where is the democracy? It is open secret that thousands were distributed to voters by many candidates and those who could not compete with his opponents were claimed to have wept!
Credibility of ECI slowly fading
The large-scale distribution of money can be gauged by the number of people thronging the markets and malls, after the election which still continues. Except for homilies like let the election be free and fair, ECI had not even lifted a finger to stop such blatant misuse of ill gotten money. The credibility of the ECI is slowly fading and it is becoming like that of the pre-Seshan era; where it was seen more like an extension of the government and not an independent body given all the powers and responsibility to ensure free and fair election. During the last one decade, the credibility of the ECI had eroded and it will be difficult to restore the dignity especially when CEC and EC attended a virtual meeting called and chaired by a Principal Secretary in the PMO!
Observers and their limited contribution
Questions have been raised about the purpose of the Observers, be it general, finance or police. Their contribution seems limited for a free and fair election. The whole rigmarole is like giving a paid vacation to senior officers to visit places which are never in the travel list! With money becoming the critical input, besides muscle power, which is bought by money and with the quantum of spending in an AC which has less than 50,000 voters; in some cases touching 30 crore, violence has to follow. There are sly talks of the quantum paid for muscle power in some ACs. Despite clarification on the amount released to the SoO groups being their stipend which is not barred, it leaves a bad taste especially when wages of MNREGA were not released. The timing is critical, and the fund for MNREGA wages were released much ahead of the election.
Free flow of liquor and guns
Despite offer for visit by polling teams to the residences of above 80 and those with disabilities, limited people took the offer. It was first thought to be due to lack of awareness. But it was later found that while waiting for money to be distributed the last date for application passed. Another question is how people become literally crazy to even commit arson or fire or pelt stones on their neighbours. The answer is that many candidates and their supporters ensure free flow of liquor and drugs like methamphetamine and after consuming many lost their sense of balance and can easily commit heinous crimes on a little prodding. There are allegations of some candidates and his party functionaries procuring illegal weapons which were distributed to such individuals. The main object seems to intimidate voters and workers of other candidates.
Is there no way to ensure free and fair election?
Yes, there is, but the ECI has to show its neutrality and independence and the desire to come down harshly on wrong doers. After spending huge amount of money, all polling stations (PS) were supposed to be video recorded and web casted. Such recordings in those PS which were alleged to have been rigged or booth captured must be scrutinised. Merely recording and forgetting is waste of money in procuring the equipments. Any PS which failed to record the proceedings must undergo re-poll and the Presiding Officer called an explanation. In PS where there are complaints of booth capturing or rigging, the recordings must be played in the presence of the Officials of ECI and if necessary representatives of the candidates and if there are malpractices like one person casting more than one vote, re-poll must be ordered, The voters attendance sheets must also be scrutinised to verify whether a single person had signed or put their thumb impression more than once and if such instances were detected re-poll must be the norm. This will increase the work of the election machinery but in ensuring free and fair election which is the hall mark of democracy, it is nothing. As ECI had had in the past failed to exercise its responsibility, the situation had deteriorated to this level and if such malpractices are not stopped now, India will become a land of shamocracy!
Those committing malpractices must be made to understand that such malpractices are a zero sum game. When this writer conducted election in 2000 in Churachandpur, out of 321 PS, re-poll was ordered in 66 PS. Records must be available in the election office. The object is to show that rigging and booth capturing leads nowhere. If that system was continued, rigging and booth capturing could have been minimised. But alas, poll officials are risk avoiders, the sole objective being to complete the exercise without delay and hell with free and fair elections!
Election law must be amended
The election law must be amended that wrongdoers if convicted are not allowed to contest for a long time of say more than a decade. It must also insert a provision that all election cases must be completed within a period of say one year, if necessary by conducting daily hearings. If within this period it could not be completed the presiding judge must be penalised. The present system of many of the election cases becoming infructuous with efflux of time leads many to take the risk of violating the law to his advantage. The legal system in India is such that many litigants passed away before the litigations can be concluded. The justice system must be made responsible as the saying “Justice delayed is justice denied” is true especially in election matters. Those who have been declared winners are to frame laws for the next five years and those who hoodwink the legal system will ensure that good laws are delayed or never made.
The use of armed groups in election is a very serious matter and the ECI must come up with measures to counter it. Despite offer to allow voting of the inmates of those in camps for those under SoO at the camp itself, there was report of voting in one camp only. If the inmates in the camps are made to cast their votes there itself, it would be easy to ensure that the cadres do not come out on the poll day to intimidate voters. Even if they come out after voting, they can influence only a few nearby villages. Voting in the camps must be made mandatory. This time a party which always got UG support in the past could not get the support in all ACs where their candidates are contesting as their benefactor have been used by other candidates. This indicates that the support of UG is ephemeral and is a double edged sword and money and politics play a major role. The outcome of this election will impact the next five years and quite a few UG groups will put pressure on the successful candidates in administration. A dangerous trend.
(The views expressed is personal)
First published:9 Mar 2022, 4:57 am
democracymanipur electionsmanipur assemblyManipur pollspoll violenceelections 2022poll rigging
The author is a former bureaucrat, Imphal, Manipur