Manipur polls

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Leader writer: Chitra Ahanthem
When Manipur goes to the polls today to elect the 60 Assembly seat representatives, it puts an end to all the hectic run up to the final frontier: the number of votes being polled that will give candidates an edge over one another. To most outsiders, Manipur’s elections are not just seen as being about the usual fare of “will do this” and “will do that” but seen on various levels. While some look at the entry of the Nagaland People’s Front (NPF) in this election as a Meitei-Naga fight for political representation, a few look on the same scenario as a face off between Nagaland Chief Minister Nephiu Rio and his Manipur counterpart, Okram Ibobi. They think too, that the spate of poll related violence unleashed by the CorCom  following their announcement of a ban on the Congress party would be affecting people and that candidates would be actively involved in election campaigns. They see the ban on the Congress by the NSCN (IM) and foretell that the number of people coming out to vote today may be low.

But the voters in Manipur are made of sterner stuff. Theirs is not the choice of staying indoors when things are happening outside their homes. They will step right into the thick of things in any event. Elections after all, add just that extra bit of spice and mean an endless carnival of feasts and free loading. The side helping of cash for votes also helps in getting out the voters out of their homes.

But what does a voter consider while casting their vote? Is it only the money that decides which part and candidate gets the vote? Do factors like which party comes into power play an important factor? What other issues play a part? Do people vote looking at which party is in power at the Centre?

In a sense, the voters in Manipur are the most complex lot. No amount of election analysis can really catch the mood of the people here for there is no consensus on what catches the minds or the voting trigger of the people. The cash-for-vote-only explanation bites the dust as shown during the earlier Konthoujam bye-election where everyone expected a rumored to be Congress flood of money to reach the finishing line. But a Trinamool candidate swept the polls and opened the flood- gate for the Trinamool Congress to make a pitch for the Assembly elections today. The trend is for people to accept cash for votes from every candidate and every party but to vote for the one of their choice. On the other side of the spectrum, even when the BJP led NDA government came to power at the Center during the late 90’s, the party had not been able to make any major presence in the state, much less come into power.

For many voters, the main issue is unfortunately not about the withdrawal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. If it were indeed about the Act the Congress Party, which did not make any electoral promise to repeal the AFSPA (unlike every other party) in the earlier Assembly elections in 2007, would not have come to power. Incumbency or “earlier representatives not performing their duties” do make a difference in the vote count: which is precisely why MLAs go on a community hall building spree during their tenure while larger issues of governance and infrastructure development gets sidelined.

One positive take-away from this Assembly election has seen the emergence of different voices calling for a vote with a conscience or a vote with responsibility call. Apart from senior citizens pitching in with their calls for responsible voting, one is witness to innovative campaigns that are aimed at making people realize the power of their franchise. While it is too early for such campaigns to bear fruit, their presence gives hope that things may well change with time. When the day ends, it will be life as usual with less than 3 hours of electricity and no tap water. People divided by party lines will share their common history of misery and go about their schedules on dust laden roads: till the next election carnival.

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