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Voters In The Heat Of Election: High Risk Campaign To Start

India has a system of political institutions, conducting more essentially to the ends of civil and religious liberty, than any of which the history of former times tells us. This was true, and it remains true today. The political institutions and traditions of the land possibly give us a truer democracy and a fuller freedom than has been given to any South Asian country like Myanmar or Pakistan. It is an unrivalled success. But the case of Manipur is purely a different thing somewhere, and we have no guarantee that this great democratic heritage will continue in the forthcoming Assembly Election in Manipur as the diktats of various forces will be too strong to disobey, a crushing blow to democracy unfortunately. In a few months’ time, the date of election to the 9th Assembly will be announced which will be much to the delight of political parties and their prospective candidates. That will be the time to decide who will rule the state. Who can vote? How are votes to be cast? What methods will be used to persuade voters to support the various candidates? How will men and women be nominated to run for candidacy? It is a tough job for each of the political parties.

As life goes on, the people of our neighboring states are free and dynamic only because the people have governed themselves with wisdom and foresight, and their states’ policies have been successful only because they have been formulated by enlightened men and women. For us, perhaps there is political madness in the state, and voters are babes in the wood who can be easily tricked or harmed, more particularly in the hill districts. This means that the state’s future will be guaranteed only if the most able and dedicated young people enter politics. It also requires that those who do not enter politics at least concern themselves with public affairs. The wisdom of representatives represents the state’s future. Our state will be what we also help make it. The tragedy is that any reforms will be’ announced by the new government. But, as was the case with the past government, the new one will not be able to put into practice its reforms through proper means. The chief reason for it is that the reforms for their implementation depend upon state machinery; the same machinery which had been the instrument of the past Governments.

Besides, the same set of persons will return to the 9th Assembly. Thus, the beauty of democracy will vanish if and when the most unpopular candidates get elected to the assembly again and again, but through coercion. It will be a set-back for parliamentary democracy India is proud of. The democracy that stands on the crutches of such people is a fake democracy to make life monotonous and hopeless. Dozens of fresh blood, if elected to the Assembly, will certainly favor all kinds of reforms in the state, if to mention one of which can be comprehensive reforms in the state’s educational system. Any man who is uniquely qualified to know politics of the present time in all its varied dimensions is supposed to come forward to give us an excellent introduction to the political life of our problem ridden state. It will help us understand why some will be elected to the 60 members’ House and why some of them will be thrown away. We are told about political parties and political partisans. These are subjects worthy of careful study.

The system of governance that we have in the state is clearly the despair of many. At the state level, the governance is confused by complexities, and when we move on to the lesser levels i.e. every district administration, it is all but in disarray. Now itself, verification of the credentials or service particulars of Govt. employees is on in every department where the exercise never ends because by the time it gets to the end, it has to start at the beginning again. As it shows, the Government finds it difficult to separate the grain from the chaff. Are all these due to lack of political will and incompetent bureaucracy? The poor people are longing for a measure of justice, social order, liberty and prosperity. For that matter, the rare ability of an MLA with his political will to adapt himself and his political party to a changing economic and regional environment is yet to be proved before the people. The process of politics must answer certain specific questions. The political system must educate. It must help to make the people aware of their government and of the issues public officials will decide.

It must also help to frame these issues for rational decision by the public so that the views of the people can have an appropriate bearing on the decision making of their government. If politics is to serve the people well, it must be a constantly improving process, raising the sights and standards of its participants to better the process of Government itself. To keep the political system ever responsive to popular will, people have to participate in the system. This means joining a political party, attending local political meetings, volunteering time during campaigns and in every way exercising a citizen’s full say in the conduct of affairs within the political party of his choice. The political world is not all sweetness and light. People are competing for high stakes, and the goal of winning sometimes brings out selfish instincts. Politics, like life itself, has its cruel side. There are times when the public interest is crassly disregarded by men of greed and selfishness. Shabby deals are made in backrooms. But there is a noble side as well. The world of politics includes courage, idealism, and selfless dedication to the well being of all mankind. And if there are a few villains in the plot, they count for little. The political system that each generation inherits will be neither good nor bad. Its quality will depend on the people who participate in it, and on the demands and expectations of the public at large.

For various reasons the word ‘politics’ often has an unfavorable connotation. Very likely this stems from the history of graft and corruption associated with the politics of our State’s earlier days. Various instances of such activity still occur than not. Then, too, the label ‘˜political’ is used critically to characterize any action by a politician that is designed to win him popular support. The fact is that every person who participates in the political system, whether as a party worker or a legislator is a politician and should be proud of it. He may do something properly criticized as ‘˜too political’. He may also be hailed for doing something statesman-like. But all politicians, the good ones, the bad ones, the dedicated and the greedy, the idealists and the pragmatists’”all make the political system work. And what they do determines what kind of a system we will have.

Like all other Indians, the present generation of Manipur coming of age will take the political system and adapt it to its own purposes. There can be revolutionary change. But little changes happened all the time. Every person has the power to make his personal impact on the system. The force and direction of all the personal impacts of all our citizens will determine the kind of political system this generation of Manipur will pass on to the next. Manipuris are proud of being democratic, and surely the essence of democracy is the direct say that the people have in running their government. Today, we take for granted the idea that in a democracy everybody can vote. It is true that every adult in the state can vote. In the privacy of polling booths, the voters become the most important people in politics. They give power, they take away power, they elect, they re-elect, and they defeat them all. In the heat of election, voters have the real power and the politicians know it. Well then, the newer behaviors of the Manipuri voters are to be observed in the next election. Every Manipuri ‘” both of valley and hills can vote, but the plain truth is that many of them didn’t, at least not regularly as we have experienced in several elections held in our time.

In the last Assembly election, the rate of voter-turnout among all men and women, and adults of Manipur who had qualified to vote was practically negligible in many of the polling booths in the hill districts and rural areas in the plain. On the contrary, the poll percentage of some of the constituencies of hill districts even reached 99% as per paper record when actually a good number of voters stayed away from casting their votes on election days. It was beyond the belief of every right thinking person that out of 1000 voters of a polling station, some 900 to 990 would turn up for the poll, and that too solidly for a particular candidate. There was extraordinary variation among the constituencies.

In some constituencies of the plain areas, the rates dropped lower. The national voter-turnout rate had never reached 60%. High percentage turn-out was rare in the polling stations of the hill districts owing to communication bottle-neck. Compared with the polling stations of valley area, voter turnout in the hill districts was never encouraging, even though the turn-out in record exceeded 80%. Why so many voters didn’t turn up for the polls? What prevented or discouraged them from voting? Some were away from their localities on Election Day, unconcerned villagers went to their fields, and they either forgot or were too lazy to register their voting.

Some found the locations of polling places inconvenient or too far away from their homes. In some polling stations where stronger candidates successively won much heavier votes than the others, many voters felt their votes were not needed, and those in the ethnic minority felt that their votes were useless.

In the coming election, military men on duty can be requisitioned in polling booths to assist the presiding officers to check proxy voting and ascertain genuine voters to conduct the poll on one man one vote principle. In doing so, the poll percentage will decrease surprisingly for good. It was neither meat nor money that mattered at Punanamei polling station of 48-Mao (ST) AC in the 1990 election, but of competency or dedication of the candidate.

Women folk turned out in hundreds to cast their votes for the candidate of their choice. In a spectacular electoral show, the turn-out rate among women was higher than among men. Not trusting male voters, they put up a strong plea that only women should cast their votes to elect Mr. Clean or the top-rated as their representative. Hectic political activity ensued throughout the poll hour. Another amazing story of success which will remain a part of the history of the legislative assembly of Manipur is that B.D. Behring, a BJP candidate with ethnic background won his seat for the second time from 41-Chandel (ST) AC with over 23000 votes to his credit in the election held in 2002.

After years of weariness, Chandel voters, irrespective of caste or creed, were looking jointly for a candidate of high grade who would represent them in the Assembly in a befitting manner, giving up the idea of monetary schemes with which many tribal voters got mad. Reversing the decision that they had earlier, voters got their candidate elected confidently. In one’s belief, it was a matter of political consciousness. Naturally, charisma earned out of dedication for a common cause helped a candidate win easily without high risk campaign. Will this alone have any impact on the forthcoming Assembly election to be held in March next year?

Voter turn-out has a tremendous significance for the outcome of election. By Election Day practically, everyone’s mind is made up. The only remaining question is how many will actually get to the polls to record their votes in the coming election. A good number of eligible voters failed to exercise their franchise in the past elections. And if a candidate can bring to the polls every eligible voter who will vote for its candidates, it can win without bothering to campaign at all. The technique will be far better than capturing of polling booths.

In the real world of voters, some knew nothing about elections, most had their minds made up on a partisan basis, and some were the least interested in the outcome. There were some voters in every election that supported the candidate of their choice, solely on the issues and the campaign, but they were always a small minority. And there were some elections in which the campaign, or the events of the day, or the personal appeal of the candidate made a strong impact and caused a substantial number of voters to make their decision regardless of party lines. Public awareness of candidates, campaigns, and issues, was lacking. In one study of a hill village in the last election, most of the voters were unable to know the names of candidates, and many political unknown won. A more significant fact is that the large proportion of voters supported their political party no matter who the candidates were.

The present trend is that on the basis of party allegiance, as many as a hundred of voters of a polling station will be prepared to announce their voting option even before the candidates are chosen.

In most cases, an even higher percentage will end up voting for the candidate of the party that normally commands their allegiance. Very often, party preferences changed over a period of years. In the election, held in 2000, the majority of voters of Manipur supported a regional party, in part because they believed the party would help strengthen the territorial integrity of the state and end widespread corruption. In the election held in 2002, a higher percentage of voters switched their allegiance to a national party, which they believed, would pour money in the state for employment and development. In urban Imphal and its suburbs, voters switched over to different parties which they observed had formulated more progressive policies.

In addition to these gradual shifts, some voters deserted their parties in particular elections and for particular candidates. But despite exceptions, the pattern of regular party voting was one of the central facts of politics here in Manipur. Three out of 4 supported the same party that their parents had supported. This strongly suggests that party preference was influenced by the preference of one’s parents. Another important influence on voter behavior was the attitude of the dominant group in the community, which seemed to remain strong from one election to the next. Apparently most of the tribal minorities who grew up in those constituencies on occasions decided to vote the same way the majority had previously voted. When several characteristics of the patterns of group voting are considered, we find that members of a single group-usually an ethnic group can be expected to vote for a ruling party or national party as a bloc, because they favor the policies of the party that promotes equality of opportunity, safeguard of ethnic minorities, and to aid the poor, and they believe the party that supports such policies. The result is a high degree of regular party voting.

In the conclusion, many of the candidates who were familiar with creating havoc, making frivolous speeches and threatening innocent villagers in the last election campaigns will be on the come-back trail. Shortly, they will be traveling far and wide to attract support of the people. Definitely, men of such stature or candidates of such traits should be rejected outright and forever. At this juncture, the choice lies between the beauty and the beast. Of course, we need hundreds of politicians who can harmonize relation between different ethnic groups in Manipur. We also need hundreds of them who know the problems of the state in depth… its causes and cure.

So, the campaign which is exhausting, expensive, risky and long is to start on. Interesting is the opinion poll that can be conducted. After self-realization and rethinking, the voters of Manipur will now support the candidates who will ever uphold the law of the land, who will hear complaints of the underprivileged, who will be sensitive to the miseries of the people and who will be dedicated and selfless, and who will be committed to solving the insurgency problems of the state of Manipur really not those who have accumulated wealth; not those who have abused powers; and not those who have betrayed the masses. Remember, the crippled, the blind, the deaf, the dumb and the least are all set to sing in unison that they don’t lend at all and borrow either. The crucial day is not far away from now. It is a matter of months only to know who wins or loses in the battle to be fought in springtime.

*The article is written by R Yangsorang

(Courtesy: The Sangai Express)

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