The Election Commission of India, ECI, is not leaving any stone unturned to ensure the forthcoming elections in Manipur and some other states are free and fair, at least to the extent possible. In Uttar Pradesh, the commission has even ordered for the chief minister, Mayawati’s statues to be covered so as not to create false larger than life image of the leader in the eye of the electorate. The extent to which it has gone has even prompted many observer to joke that the ECI may start ordering all lotuses in the states going to the polls plucked and ban anybody showing their the palms of their hands. Or better still to make it mandatory for everybody to wear gloves during election campaigns so that their palms do not show. All these, the lampoons go, with the intent of ensuring the visibility of no party is unfairly, even if inadvertently, increased. But jokes apart, the commission is indeed going to all lengths within its command. In Imphal, it has even gone about ordering campaign hoardings to be torn down.
In fact, just a little over a week to go, there are hardly any reminder that the state is going to the elections. The loudest publicity for the elections so far, in quite macabre irony, has been the daily bomb blasts and grenades hurled at homes of candidates and their workers. This round of elections, no doubt would be the most noise and litter free one.
Overtly, this would have ensured no slanderous campaigns which have so familiar in election campaigns in Manipur. Overtly again, this would also mean no extravagant feasts, nightlong binging revelries etc, and therefore less expenditures for the candidates. However, as in the case of so many other fields of activities, when they are banned, they go underground and continue to exist. The loud campaigns may have been banished, all thanks to the ECI, but there is no gainsaying covert corrupting campaigns of vote purchases would be happening even now away from public view. Nonetheless, there is everything to be happy about the way the elections are being conducted this time. A lot many discerning voters would now be able to quietly weight their options, away from the usual cacophony of Indian elections, and cast their valuable votes for the candidate of their choices. If there is a way to check the covert bribing as well, and if this becomes a lasting trend in the future, elections would no longer be prohibiting for talented potential statesmen from all walks of life, thus free this extremely important exercise of democracy in Manipur from the monopolistic grip of filthy rich contractors and retired bureaucrats who made their money by emptying the public exchequers.
The ECI has also brought in unprecedented number of central paramilitary forces to ensure no coercive means are used by any party to force voting trends to suit their vested ends. In the secure environment of the polling booths, the secret ballot will now be allowed to become the free expression individual will as it should be. This is again welcome. Without this freedom of choice in the selection of candidates, democracy would be rendered hollow. There is no reason not to believe this has been allowed to happen to a great extent in the past in states like Manipur where guns and bullets are cheaper than human lives. The ECI further is introducing state-of-the-art voter screening technologies this time to ensure there are no proxy voting. This will ensure that even if the voters’ enumeration lists have been grossly manipulated to show more voters than there are in any village or leikai, the excess ghost electorates are not allowed to be translated into votes. In the past there had been disputes about census figures with claims that in some areas the population had been inflated beyond humanly possible and pardonable margins of error. This round of elections, with the voter photographing technology, should somewhat put the dispute to rest. In voters’ numbers had been inflated dishonestly in certain areas, there would be drastic drops in the voters turnout there, for obviously ghosts cannot have their photographs taken and so cannot vote under the new ECI screening system. This round of elections hence would be interesting for the insight it provides on all these issues, aside from watching which political party ultimately turns out to be the most popular in the state, and also assessing the extent of divide within the society in the face of the campaign by certain parties to weaken the unity of Manipur.