by Shreema Ningombam
The election of Nambol Municipal Council ward no. 3(Phoijing) was conducted on 3rd of January 2011. One of our aunts was a candidate in independent category with the symbol of an aeroplane. I and my cousin headed to the group which issued our names and serial number after verifying from the voter’s list. Inside the booth I asked the polling officer whether I am going to get back the chit of paper which bore my name, serial number and other details which I found out was to be left with them. Then I saw the seal which resembles swastika and I asked the fellow who issue me the seal whether I have to give the seal back to him. Such was the lack of voting etiquette from my side for I was displaced elsewhere pursuing my higher education.
Before that they forced me to put my thumb impression on a paper which later on I found a signature was to be put but the officers have no time for giving everyone the luxury of signing so they cut it short with the thump impression. Of course my finger was tainted with that typical election black-brown mark. Later on I came to know various means to remove the mark. One method is by rubbing with the fiber peel of betel nut and the other means is by dissolving the chemicals on the tip of the match sticks and rubbing it on the mark. These methods are time tested used by the people for proxy voting.
People voted for various reasons: the candidate is a relative, money changed hands or chronic debt is waived. Others voted for the candidate who sponsored the cement flooring of the Kaboklei Mini Bazar while another voted because one of the workers of the candidate helped him in getting a clerical job. Some men who were neighbour of my aunt’s maternal family came to vote for her because she used to cook for their family during those five days when their women folk were quarantined because of their menstruation. One old woman voted for my aunt because her pension was delivered by her on time every month.
What will the candidate do after winning the election was hardly a criteria in voting. Perhaps because it has hardly been in the culture of our representatives to be accountable for what they do after winning, yet of course in the propaganda he/ she might have highlighted. Election has become a kind of a big fair/mela where people come out to see exhibition in terms of money, verbal exchanges, the gestures, the grin or the wink with all the interpretations and just as they say “vote thadaba mee yengusi lao hei! (Come, let’s go and see the people voting). As we sat on the lawn to watch the kumhei (festival) we overheard a daughter in law of a former MLA of our constituency, “ I feel so sad that I could vote only once this time…those were the days when I use to vote with freedom as many times as I could.” One can’t but hail such freedom in the number of votes one could cast in one election. This freedom is the marvel of so called the great engine of India’s democracy –the election. She was the one who snatch my ballot paper when I went to vote for the first time in a general election years ago saying “Lak-o lak-o, Benou nangidi ei thadabirage!” (Come, come! Benou, I will vote for you). That was how I lost my first chance to exercise the right to franchise. Another woman whose husband was out of the village wanted to claim the right to vote on behalf of her husband with the insistence “Why can’t I vote for my husband, why?” She feels her husband is hers so his share of vote is also hers. This is the logic of inheritance of voting right. Those whose stances have been indecisive have been the most beneficial out of this mela as they get paid from all candidates. The leikai bamon decided to divide the votes within their family. Nevertheless I heard that the Bamon was asked to give back the iron pipe installed inside the pillar upon which the temple bell is mounted, as all the members of the bamon family didn’t vote for the candidate who was supported by the fellow who donated the pipe long back.
Election is also a creator of various maxims, metaphors and idioms. The saying goes the true colour of the people comes out during the election. “Who is who and who is for whom?” The slogan of the mass “paisa piyu vote thadage” (give money we will give vote). This money may have to be either paid fresh or may have to be kind of waiving previous debt. In fact someone promised a candidate all the votes of the family once he pays him back the sum of rupees 80,000 the candidate owed him. The other maxim that comes to prominence is “either you are with us or you are with the enemy” so when my aunt’s son lost the key to Maruti 800 when it was needed the most for running around during election, she exclaimed “How dare he lose the key at this hour, is he too conniving in favour of the opposite candidate?” Everyone is ready to accuse the other who does not do anything for or do anything against you. The election workers offered alcohol to workers of opposite parties in the morning of election- day and being drunk almost to the point of falling flat the workers failed to cast vote for their own candidate.
The ingredients of winning an election are feast, alcohol, tobacco and betel nuts (kwa), money, muscles and some mantras. On the day of election nonstop tareng leiba (spinning of the yarn) in front of Sanamahi was diligently offered and many relatives of aunt took turn to tareng leiba. This is a traditional method used by lady to call or pull the spirit of the man she desires. This time the purpose shifted to pulling the spirits of the voters. My mother taught my aunt three mantras which she refused to tell me as she would not like her secret charms to be highlighted in this newspaper article. She managed to reveal the purpose of those three mantras: to save from witchcraft, for victory, and for auspiciousness. In the election compound aunt revealed in the presence of others “Eche, nangi mantra du yamna kaannei” (Sister, your mantra is very useful). The other women inquired mom “Eche, from where did you learn the mantra?” The next day when my mom went to her school and narrated how her mantra worked one of her colleagues lamented, “ Eche, we should have learnt it from you , the candidate whom we supported have been hypnotised by a spell from opponent and in the middle of the election he went mad and started uttering languages of aliens”. Sometimes various methods of witchcraft are used to neutralise opponents. Strands of moustache from a cat and a dog is twisted and burnt on the porch of the house of the one who is targeted. Sometimes the urine mixture of seven men and seven women is sprinkle around the backyard of the opponent. As many as there are variety of witchcraft there are various antidotes. This is the time when lucky stones, gods of various creeds, kuthis, amaiba and amaibies attain almost their highest utility.
As I finish this article on 7th January afternoon, I hear from a far in the road the crowd uproaring the victory of my aunt. I voted for her for one reason. She adopted a calf whose mother died just after giving birth to it. She used to feed the calf with Lactogen filled in the milk bottle. One chaishen (a traditional big bowl used as jug) of milk which will amount to three milk bottles was enough to fill the calf’s belly in the initial stage. Whenever she enter the gate of her house or when the calve come back from the meadows it use to call my aunt “mo!,mo!” My aunt use to respond “mama laak-e mama laak e”, the calf would nudge on my aunt’s thighs and lay on her lap like a baby until it finish drinking three milk bottles. One day it came home along with the herd with a blade of grass glued on its lips. My aunt instantly took it as “yai” and kept it in a secret place. Perhaps all these mantras and yais worked for her winning. Yet my aunt is not an extraordinary candidate nor am I an informed voter. In fact I am worst as I voted her seeing what she did for the animal while at least others voted for her considering what she did for human even if it is for their own benefit. Even after apprising democratic theories and other theories of liberty equality and rights I turn out to be one of those voters whose will is no more or no less parochial than anyone else’s. These theories have been the least profitable; the least sold and have incurred a heavy loss in the grand fair of India’s democracy.