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Electoral Rights: A Precondition For Free And Fair Election

The logical concept of the study has attempted to find an insight to the electoral rights that suffer most on the eve of elections in the conflict-ridden area in general and remote areas of Manipur in particular. It is worth noting that it is a state where numerous extra constitutional organizations work with different ideologies and their end goals seemingly being the same.

In the context of elections, right to franchise and right to candidature, freedom to participate in electioneering activities are the main concerns. Such electoral rights are often violated in the hills and remote areas in general and affected most in the armed conflict states in particular. The situation in North-East India where human rights violation is still a big question. Prevailing conditions of human rights in such regions are seemingly handled by State and non-State actors. Different acts of State and non-State actors have often been a threat to human rights. It seems to be considered as natural phenomenon of electoral politics if it is appeared in the pre and post poll. That most of the people are seriously concerned and emphasized only those cases of human right violation caused by security forces and militant outfits. Generally people have ignored other cases of human rights that happening on the pre and post elections. Besides, till today democratic elections have been converting to plutocratic State of election which implies only those candidates who supported by wealthy and powered could get elected.

Politically or apolitically such electoral rights are often violated in Manipur but most of the people did not claim it seriously. In Manipur, mostly in the hill areas such cases are experiencing more. For instance a culture of dictate has been spreading in the hill; some organizations prescribed instruction ‘˜dos and don’ts’ to abide by the electorates and candidates. It is in fact, violation of right in the context of free and fair election has been inclined in the recent elections. Many aspirant candidates cannot declare their candidature without the support of one organization whether it may be civil organization or extra-Constitutional bodies unless they are likely to be victim of electoral rights.

Relevance to the Universal Rights and Political Right: Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides different provisions in which some rights may be considered in the context of electoral rights. ‘Article 7’”all are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.’ So, all the citizens who have the eligibility conditions to be candidature have the right to contest election or right to vote that Constitution of India also provides such provision. Article 19- Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers. Article 20 (1)’”Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association. (2) No one may be compelled to belong to an association. Sometimes threatens to particular group not to hold or organize political rally or not to support such meeting are found on the eve of election. ‘Article 21 (1)’”Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives. (2) Everyone has the right of equal access to public service in his country. (3) The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of Government; this shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.’ (See UDHR). This article has intimate relation with the electoral rights where political rights are clearly mentioned. In case a man is wrongfully arrested or detained, he or she may move to the court for necessary remedies which means arbitrary arrest is illegal. On the eve of election arbitrary arrest or abduction by armed cadres to resist involvement in the electioneering campaign and violation of freedom is very frequent in the remote area. In a democratic country right to freedom of thought and expression is highly necessary that enable us development of human personality. Laski opined that, ‘˜To allow a man to say what he thinks is to give his personality the only ultimate channel of free expression, and his citizenship the only means of moral adequacy’. (SC Saxena 1991: 361). The right to speech is freedom to express one’s view of general subject which means every individual is free to think and express their opinion in public without any interference by Govt. But reasonable restrictions may be imposed if these rights are abused by any one which may disturb normal order of the society. Personal liberty seems to be minimal on the eve of elections due to several interference from the non-State actors in the remote areas where armed cadres violate electoral rights.

Political rights are that privileges, recognized and guaranteed by the law of the State, which ensure the participation of the citizen in the exercise of the sovereign power of the State. A democratic system is one in which the will of the average citizen has channel of direct access to the sources of authority. Hence a right to political power ‘right to vote, right to be candidate, right to form political parties, right to hold public meetings, right to criticize Govt., right to hold public office, etc.’, are some important political rights, political right are significant in the sense that the equality of a Govt considerably depends upon how these rights are exercised. Hence, political rights are not granted to those minors, who do not have the necessary metal equipment for rightful use of their privileges. Similarly, the aliens who don’t render allegiance to the State in which they stay are generally denied political rights. Certain rights which are great concern with ‘˜political’ such as the right to vote, to be elected, public office, petition, criticize the Government and resistance are considered as political rights.

Electoral Right: The right to vote also called the ‘˜franchise’ is the most important political right of the people. All people who have attained prescribed age (adult) should have the right to exercise their franchise in order to elect their representatives who form the Government. This right is of special significance in liberal democratic countries where there are many political parties. But such franchise is less importance in communist countries where only one political party usually exists so that the people have no choice of candidate. Effective participation in the Government is possible for the people only through their representatives. However, it has been seen that even democratic Governments do not grant this right to every citizens. Aliens, bankrupt, lunatics, minors and certain types of criminals are denied the right to franchise. The right to contest election or to be elected, to represent the people is another important political right. In a democratic country this right acquires an added significance. The right is a corollary to the right to vote and most of the countries grant this privilege of contesting election to different legislative bodies without any discrimination of caste, race, sex, religion, language and place of birth. But certain restrictions are there on the alien, certain criminals and minors and others that in the same case of right to vote. Mention may be made that though the criminals have no right to vote but they have right to be candidates, for instance many candidates join the election from jail. It needs to justify such controversial law. Besides, those electorates reside in the eight constituencies of outer parliamentary i.e. (33 Heirok, 34 Wangjing Tentha, 35 Khangabo, 36 Wabgai, 37 Kakching, 38 Hiyanglam, 39 Sugnoo, 40 Jiribam) has no right to be candidature though they cast their vote which is violation of electoral rights. Perhaps, the outer seat is reserved for ST many ST electorates residing in these outer constituency have been demanding their rights, but no response is yet arrived.

Election in remote areas: Human rights violation on the eve of elections appeared in the State but the magnitude of such cases  found in the hill areas have certain deviation from the valley though the scenario of human rights question on election due to armed conflict, seem to be same. Power politics and gun-culture has risen in the election since 2002. Different hill base insurgent groups of either one or other group have been boycotting election in the hill areas. Notably, while one particular insurgent group boycotted the election most of the insurgent groups neither supported nor opposed. But changes appeared since some important outfit operated in the hill areas like NSCN-IM and NSCN-K enter to the peace process with the Government of India, on the other hand Kuki underground groups under two umbrella Kuki National Organization KNO and United People’s Front UPF enter to the tripartite peace talk, Suspension of Operation SoO in between Kuki underground group, Indian Army and State Government. Though the people have somewhat eased from fear election is still not free from violation of electoral right in the sense that ‘˜dictate’ culture is widely spread to support a particular candidate. So the freedom of the electorate to choose their representative was no more there. The detail analysis on the context of threat and coercive power of local gunda or leaders of civil organization can be seen on the eve of election. In protest to such violation or command of the armed groups to support the particular candidate many womenfolk organized rally in the Chandel District on the pre poll. In fact poll percentage of the election was so high that even the actual physical appearance of electorates was very meager. Besides, even minor child caste vote, shown as per newspaper report.

Insurgents in election: Major threat since the first general elections in 1952 NSCN has been boycotting election in the hill areas of Manipur and entire State of Nagaland. Gradually, as a new strategy, NSCN-IM enters into State politics, directly or indirectly, condemning New Delhi’s delaying tactics of peace process that was started in 1997. NSCN-IM’s possible entry into State politics could be exactly towing the line of what Government of India would like it to do. Compared to NSCN-IM’s earlier stand of boycotting and banning elections in the hill districts prior to ceasefire agreement, the State election of 2002 marks its taking a significant role in electoral politics, e.g. backing specific candidates. This was done to strengthen the peace process and also to achieve some political points for negotiation.

Moreover, NSCN-IM declared all the Naga candidates not to contest election on any political parties, instead as Independent candidate. Some Naga MLAs subsequently resigned from the party and Assembly expressing their support on the peace process in the very near election. Though NSCN-IM warned, many seating MLAs were contested from the Congress. Even at the time when NSCN-IM imposed restriction on election in the hill, many Naga candidates have succeeded. On the contrary, some seating Naga MLAs demanding central leaders not to interfere NSCN-IM in the election suggesting that it may be disturbed on the peace process.

It may also be mentioned that the then president of the MPCC, O. Ibobi Singh, has charged that his party’s candidates in Chandel and Tengnoupal Assembly constituencies were forced to withdraw their nomination papers under duress from the underground NSCN-IM. (Imphal Free Press, Feb. 3, 2002) In a press meet Ibobi said that the two candidates, L. Benjamin and Morung Makunga, were detained at Dimapur (Nagaland) and forced to withdraw their nomination papers by cadres of the NSCN-IM.

Consequently, Ibobi made a written complaint to the Election Commission of India ECI, on January 31, 2002, asking for a repeat of the entire poll exercise in the two constituencies, allowing filing of fresh nomination papers. Permission has sought from the Congress high command to initiate appropriate legal action if no action is forthcoming from the ECI. For instance the rights of a citizen to contest in elections have been forcibly taken away. He reiterated the coercive action of the underground outfit in forcing the withdrawal of the two candidates to a communal political vision. This cases is quite evidence for the violation of electoral rights in the hill districts of Manipur that doesn’t claim such activities are not found in the valley but the dimension is quite different.

Noteworthy to mention, that the interference of underground elements in electioneering in the hill districts for the second phase of the Manipur Assembly Election. Instructions issued by a particular underground organization, which has disavowed all interest in Indian elections to the village authorities of various villages in these three districts, warning against voting for candidates who had opposed the extension of the NSCN-IM ceasefire to Manipur had cast a shadow over campaigning.(IFP, Feb. 19, 2001) One such circular was reportedly issued to villages in the Noney and Haochong area in Tamenglong district by Government of Peoples Republic of Nagaland (GPRN) on January 3, 2002 warning Naga civilians against extending support to or voting for candidates who had opposed the extension of the ceasefire to Manipur.

On the other hand, the central administrative officer, Zeliangrong region, GPRN, had issued an order on January 26, 2002 directing national party workers to refrain from participation and involvement in the Manipur Assembly Election directly or indirectly. The order had warned that stern action would be taken against defaulters. (Poknapham, Feb. 19, 2001) Subsequently, leading six active Congress (I) workers and the son of the INC candidate in Ukhrul AC were abducted by armed persons on February 17 and released the next day. They were reportedly picked up from Ukhrul. Candidate’s son was also abducted by armed persons from Nungshong Lamkhai. All were released the next day and firmly warned not to campaign for the Congress candidate.

Civil organization in election: Question of authoritative allocation United Naga Council (UNC) apex body of Naga organization, based in the hill area for the betterment of Naga community. On the eve of the election, the Naga candidates had taken ‘undertaking’ as oath to contribute to the Naga consolidation and integration movement.

In the present context, from the last assembly election 2002 Naga organization particularly sympathizer groups have been involved directly in the election. That UNC has been projecting to elect only the Naga candidates who favor Naga integration. Interestingly, such a democratic country where freedom is provided in the constitution UNC directed instructions on the Naga candidates and electorates. As a result of this, Naga MLAs have faced several threats and warned to resign from the Assembly in the last term. As they have taken undertaking, most of the Naga representatives kept mum while taking resolutions regarding state integrity in the Assembly. To keep their promise on the one side and as strategy for next election on the other all the Naga MPs and MLAs have submitted a memorandum to the PM expressing their support on the Naga unification under a political entity. Perhaps it may be another political strategy to woo Naga electorates. Many people felt that electoral rights are very insecure in the hill areas that freedom of thought and expression seems to resist particularly in the hill Naga tribes. Signing undertaking as oath in the last Assembly election 2000, threaten to resign from the Assembly and political party, instructions on the Naga candidates to be followed accordingly, are cleared against freedom of thought. Such kind of declaration and undertaking on the given format UNC has mentioned to support only the Independent candidate nominated by them as consensus. Besides after election all the elected MLAs should resign at any time when they say to do so. In fact such deed violates people’s right and stands against the democracy.

Conflict reflection With these views critical analysis were came up from various quarters, the Democratic Peoples’ Party, DPP, has come out strongly against the 47 Naga candidates who are reported to have signed a pact at Senapati to fight for the Naga political cause including the peace talks between the government of India and the NSCN (IM) once elected to the Manipur Legislative Assembly.

Reacting to the dictate of UNC the NSCN (K) has accused the UNC and the All Naga Students’ Association, Manipur (ANSAM) of ‘directly monitoring’ the Manipur Assembly Elections at the behest of the NSCN-IM. The Khaplang faction of the NSCN said that the NSCN-IM has selected its own ‘pick and choose persons’ as independent candidates. In a statement issued by the secretary of the MIP in Dimapur, the NSCN-K said that the course of action taken up by the NSCN-IM, UNC and ANSAM is not ‘election but selection’. The NSCN (K) further said that since election is usually conducted under Indian laws, it was up to the Government of India and its Election Commission to decide whether the said exercise was ‘election or selection,’ and added that it is least bothered over such developments. While warning the UNC and ANSAM, the NSCN-K said that the two social bodies would be held solely responsible if any untoward incident takes place resulting in the loss of human lives and properties on account of ‘undue interference’ by them.

The Kuki Inpi, Manipur (KIM), had expressed strong concern over the Senapati declaration signed by Naga candidates pledging to support the ‘˜Naga cause’ at the behest of the UNC. The KIM president, P Gangte, in a statement issued said the UNC is gathering dark clouds of tension by forging the ‘˜forced-signed’ ( declaration warning that it will have far reaching consequences to destabilize the already disturbed social harmony of the pluralistic society of Manipur. Such an attempt to create a captive group of legislators and dictate terms with no free political conscience is not only undemocratic but also unchristian. It said that the UNC’s ‘˜selfish and ego-centric’ policy focusing only on the ‘˜Naga cause’ cannot be merged in the kaleidoscopic pluralistic society. Stating that in a pluralistic society, give and take policy is not only democratic but also in tune with all religious beliefs, and reiterated, if the UNC desires peace, it can capitalize on the already available good offices of other people and organizations.

Concluding remark: A free and fair election is much, for the success of democracy, by the way all the citizens should care of their rights which is very vital in the sense that if any electorates misused their rights influenced by various factors, the outcome or the representative to be governing the nation shall be infamous oligarchy or plutocrat, which is the consequent or reflection of abusing franchise. Various activities of the candidate and workers may have unethical and immoral politics to lure or woo electorates, but the final verdict is on the electorates, so all the electorates should act in the right approach. But in the context of election in the armed conflict states like in the North east region the circumstances are sharply difference. That, though the electorates have well conceived of their electoral rights to be used in the right direction they cannot act freely. Conditions that resist the freedom of electorates are witnessed in the above analysis that insurgency problem dominates in all the activities. In fact, amicable solution to respect the human rights and electoral rights will at large depend on the political solution of the ongoing struggles in the case of Manipur. For the moment all the stakeholders ‘“ Election Commission of India, political parties, candidates, electorates and civil societies should contribute their mite to protect democratic norms for free and fair election respecting political morality and ethics. But the Government and Election Commission of India have to take major responsibility that protection of human rights is one of the most significant task of the government.

*The article is written by L Muhindro Singh.

(Courtesy: The Sangai Express)

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