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Some observations on Manipur Assembly Election first phase

The first phase poll was comparatively peaceful in contrast to the large scale pre-poll violence.

ByRK Nimai

Updated 1 Mar 2022, 5:12 pm

(PHOTO: IFP)
(PHOTO: IFP)

This writer along with many believed that there is likely to be large scale poll violence as the pre-poll violence was unprecedented. However, the first phase of the election was comparatively peaceful, though there are a few stray incidents, which is lower than some of the past elections.

However, the talk of the town is the support of the INC candidate of Wangoi AC extended to the BJP candidate. There are rumours that he first approached the NPP candidate whose team welcome the support but there will be no underhand dealing. This led him to approach the BJP candidate who welcomed him. This was despite the pledge of all INC candidates before the Kangla not to shift parties! He was perhaps forced to do this as he does not have the financial wherewithal to fight the election and thought best to retire. However the moot point is whether his followers will follow suit and support the BJP candidate? Some of his close supporters may but majority will find the act obnoxious and support the other candidate. But perhaps he had foreclosed his opportunity in electoral politics. This act brought to fore the ideology of the individuals who change parties like the chameleon changes colours and whether political parties should accept such individuals as members where the ideology of his previous party was in contrast to the new party?

There were some conflicts here and there in some ACs, the majority being related to booth capturing and proxy voting. These were done where the candidate is strong and his supporters do not allow others to vote. The claim that the inner agents of particular candidates were either threatened not to participate will not lead to re-poll. Such agents may have been threatened or have been purchased or another alternatively may be that there is a nexus with the other candidate to ensure that except for his agent no others are present. Presence of inner agent is not mandatory and it is for the candidate to ensure that his inner agents are present in time. The failure of his agents to turn up indicates the candidate’s weakness in the approach to the election.

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There are also allegations that voters were threatened not to come out to vote which is not surprising and it is for the candidates to ensure that such malpractices are reported to the authority in time and action taken. It is altogether another matter if the authority refuses to act in time. There are also instances that proxies voting were allowed in connivance with the BLO. One wonders how come the BLO had participated in the voting process as he is not a part of the polling party. The function of him on the voting day is to sit in the Facilitation Desk outside the polling station to facilitate voters and also gives the undistributed voter slips to the respective voters. There was claim that the voting process is webcasted and if the ECI checks the footage, it will give a very clear picture whether unauthorised personnel were involved in the voting process, especially identification of the voters. If this is confirmed, strict action may be taken against the BLO and the Presiding Officer and appropriate action may also be taken for re-poll. ECI collects all sorts of information but no action seems to be taken on the information collected.

Perhaps the information is too voluminous to act and if that is so, there is no purpose in collecting. The signatures on the register of voters can also be checked whether the signatures are different or it has been signed by a few individuals and even if there are a few cases where there is suspicion of a few individuals voting more than once, re-poll should be ordered as the intent is for a free and fair election and a person casting more than once show there is no fair election. Ordering of re-poll where there is suspicion of rigging will in the long run teach a lesson to the candidate or his agents to refrain from such illegal practices.

It is the experience from the past especially in the hills where the security cover is thin that force is used to intimidate the polling party and the security team to ensure rigging. The security team being small in number and with limited support will not challenge threats and try to ensure that the polling is completed without violence. This has happened in the past and will happen. Election machinery is never fully aware of the ground reality or even tries to understand. Their objective is to complete the election process, without much disturbance. Thus the concept of free and fair election is just not possible in the state or in the country. In many there may be, but there will always be pockets where intimidation, corrupt practices and force ensure rigging, with the genuine voters not been able to casts their votes. Such practices must be put to a stop and therefore where there are such complaints, ECI must look into the footage of the polling process to see whether there is any infarction and if so re-poll ordered.

Despite the fact that the permissible limit of spending on an election is limited to Rs 28 lakh per candidate, it is a well known secret that the spending is much more beyond this limit. The rumour going around is that many candidates distribute money ranging from Rs 3,000 to even up to Rs 20,000 per vote. No one is the wiser as there is discreet understanding between the giver and the takers and any effort to catch will lead to those spying being assaulted. Many of the voters took money from more than one candidate and to who they vote is a moot question. This is despite the effort to restrain transport of large cache of fund as the effort is like a hollow sieve and there is not sufficient manpower to ensure foolproof checking.

There are reports of cadres of specific UG groups intimidating voters to vote for specific candidate. This is despite denial by the various UG groups. It is even reported that their services were purchased and in one AC it was rumoured that one candidate offered Rs. 3 crore which was agreed but when another candidate offered Rs 5 crore the latter offer was accepted and the support goes to the latter candidate. As per available report only one group cast their vote in their designated camp through postal ballots. In fact, all cadres of the UGs under SoO should have been insisted that they shall cast their votes in their designated camps. If this is insisted upon, the cadres will be restricted to their designated camps at least on the day of poll and not roam freely to intimidate voters. If on the day of the voting, the Monitoring team visited the designated camps, the reality will be out in the open. All efforts to ensure free and fair practices were not put into operation.

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There were press releases from various CSOs that certain UG groups in talk with the government are canvassing for a specific candidate. No harm there but when they intimidate voters with arms and threats, then the government must act. However, government refuses to act thereby putting more oil on the rumour grist about certain UG groups supporting official candidates of certain parties. In the present election the balance between the Naga and the Kuki may be disturbed in the state legislature. Whether this will impact the polity of the hills need to be watched.

To conclude, the first phase poll was comparatively peaceful in contrast to the large scale pre-poll violence and hope that the second phase is also peaceful. The small alleged infractions need to be looked into and if there is suspicions of any wrongdoings must be acted upon swiftly. Sweeping under the carpet will only lead to more mischief in the future.

(The views expressed are personal)

 

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First published:1 Mar 2022, 5:12 pm

Tags:

Manipur elections 2022Manipur pollspoll violencepre poll violence

RK Nimai

RK Nimai

The author is a former bureaucrat, Imphal, Manipur

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