Updated on 27 Oct 2021, 8:08 am
Representational Image (Photo: Pixabay)
The temperature of the coming election will be high as expected, but recent happenings even overtook the expectation, as the election is still a few months away. In a few valley ACs violence have taken place, and even Athuan Abonmei’s gruesome murder, many believe, has a political angle, with some in private even calling it political assassination.
With every passing election, violence increases and is directly correlated to the illegal spending in the run up and during the elections. The quality of canvassing also deteriorates with every passing election. Who is to blame, the politicians or the electors? This is like the proverbial question; which comes first, the egg or the hen, a continuing conundrum. People have also become so greedy that they are satisfied only when grafts are received from the prospective candidates. In fact for attending a political meeting grease money is provided ranging from 500 to 2000, and all the gifts allegedly bestowed by the people to the intending candidates were actually sponsored by the latter, just to window dress his alleged popularity.
MLAs and intending candidates have started giving old age pension and other freebies claiming that it is from his salary or income but the spending far exceeds their known sources of income; in other words black money! Therefore, it would not be incorrect to say that those intending candidates even before they become law-makers are indulging in illegal acts. This further led to the question whether they are really fit for the high position?
In every election, there is a bee line for getting the ticket of the ruling party and as the present government is a coalition government, there is a queue for BJP and NPP in the valley. Perhaps, with a final arbiter for the NPF, there may be internal lobbying but this has not yet come out in the open. If one looks into the intending candidates, many have jumped party like a jumping jack making one wonder to which party they actually belong. One understands standoff between aspiring candidates of different political parties but aspirants from the same party using violence against each other is unbelievable and unprecedented, and the claim that the other aspirants will support the official candidate of the party at the time of election is unbelievable. With the election nearing, shifting of political parties are announced regularly claiming that the decision was arrived at after consultation with his workers. The decision is however, not based on any consultation but looking for better pastures including getting party tickets. This will only increase as the election nears.
When violence occurs, both sides blame the other side for resorting to violence first. They will always say that they are for peaceful, free and fair elections and the other side started the incident. When injury happens to only one side, the chances of the other party being the perpetrator is high. The law enforcing agencies always tend to side with the ruling party in every election. Till now most of the shots fired are from shotguns but there is no assurance that illegal high projectile arms will not be used leading to death. It may be asking for too much, but if the law enforcing agencies take action immediately without bias or favour, such incidents can easily be nipped in the bud.
In the past, questions were raised as to how gun licences were issued? Were the conditions laid down in the Arms Acts and Rules strictly followed and whether any of the licensees have undergone psychological testing? There are many incidents where after drinks; shots were fired, in a few cases injuring people. On what grounds were such licences issued as many unstable individuals who love to tipple have been issued with gun licences for side arms. Was the reputation of the individual in the locality enquired upon? The District Magistrates must immediately ask the guns to be deposited till the end of the election as this is not only causing law and order problems but also causing hurt. If such measures are not taken immediately and wait for the election code of conduct to be operative, loss of lives cannot be ruled out.
Appeal will have no impact as the stake is too high and aspiring candidates will use whatever means including money and violence to get the party ticket and get elected. Besides, many of the aspiring candidates have limited or no ideology; their sole ideology is to win the election by whatever means. How many of the aspiring candidates have worked through the hierarchy in their party? Most of them are nouveau riche who earn through various legal and illegal means and to ensure respectability and power took the easy way of contesting elections.
Election, called the festival of democracy, is no longer related to democracy; it is sheer money and muscle power. In our neighbouring state of Mizoram, the YMA had taken the lead to ensure that exorbitant spending is restricted, that the candidates spend within the limit laid down by the ECI. This provides a level playing field allowing good candidates to join the fray. This can be seen by the number of highly qualified candidates elected in that state. The system there cannot be said to be perfect, especially when the role of the ECI and the government have been marginalised and a CSO took the responsibility to ensure free and fair elections. Further, the CSO may have a soft corner for some of the candidates leading to conflict of interest and biasness. The outsourcing of governance has dangerous portent, it is the responsibility of the ECI to ensure free and fair election, but CSOs ensuring it, though laudable is not good for democracy itself; as CSOs do not have legal mandate for such works and a time may come when they commit unlawful acts in the name of justice.
Manipur has many CSOs which always took the high moral ground that they are not interested in electoral politics. Nothing wrong in that; but what ails the state is the outcome of the elections, many criminals and incompetents becoming law makers. The root of most of the problems of Manipur is due to the fact that the majority of the elected representatives joined politics not with the intent to do good for the state and the people but to enrich themselves and their cronies. They always claim that they join electoral politics to do good for their AC and the state but after being elected, the type of vehicles they own, the building they construct, the real estate they accumulate, the gifts they gave, etc confirms that they fail to practice what they preach. Another practice now is adultery and marrying more than one wife; which earlier was done on the sly but now brazenly. How many of the aspiring candidates spend within their known sources of income not only at the time of election but in between? And the electorate always expects such largesse. The quality of them is their ability to harp on lies to manage perceptions despite knowing that all who hear him know that he is just telling a flat lie. Subsequently, repeating the lies ad nauseam makes them believe in their own lies.
There are certain movements for free and fair elections but the movement is sparse and in a few cases limited to intellectual discourse. There is a need to expand such movements. One school of thought is that the distribution of money at the time of election must be stopped. Another school of thought claims that as most of the voters are poor they should take money but vote strictly based on the merit of the candidates! The second school is a priori fallacious in that those who spent huge amounts in getting elected will ensure that he profits during his term. Election has become a huge gamble, with crores at stake. For a very short term gain, five years will be sacrificed. . Voting on getting Rs. 2000/- means he was purchased at Rs. 1.10 per day! If the CSOs and local clubs come together, free and fair elections are not impossible. In a few polling stations, local volunteers have formed committees to ensure that distributing money, organising luncheon, etc are banned but their effectiveness needs to be seen as they will be up against powerful forces. The debate of aspiring candidates from an AC in local TV channels is a positive move.
The series of recent pre poll violence may be only a forerunner till the election and even after the election, there can be more violence. This dissuades good and competent people from joining electoral politics; a bad portent. Everyone must condemn poll-related violence and support movement for not only a free and fair poll, but also for a level playing field, where the competency of the candidate alone determines the result, not the spending or muscle power.
(The views expressed are personal)
The author is a former bureaucrat, Imphal, Manipur