By: Seram Neken
When someone emerged to enter electoral politics and offered to contest elections, people usually asked “how much money he had earned, how many vehicles he had owned, how much plots of land he had bought, how much he could distribute to the voters, how many contract works he could share to his workers” etc. Possession of costly vehicles such as JCB, Bull Dozer, Trucks, Tata Tippers and properties such as Gas agencies, shop plots, having nexus with both state machineries and otherwise seemed to define the criteria for candidates to win elections. The electorate never enquired the educational background, social activities, political affiliation, oratory and convincing aptitude of the emerging candidates. Fortunately this time, with the strict election code of conduct and limitation on expenditure of candidates, the role of money and muscle power may be reduced to a great extent. However, it is still doubtful whether the electorate is ready to vote for the right candidate or right political party when there is no enough opportunity for political sensitization and awareness. It is also doubtful whether the Election Commission will be vigilant and active enough in the remote hill constituencies of Manipur as it is in the valley districts.
Thanks to the Election Commission of India for its strict code of conduct and strictures on expenditure of candidates and political parties. Role of money and muscle power will surely be reduced to a great extent in the ensuing General Elections and afterwards. However, without political consciousness, the voters are not expected to elect true representatives. Poll date is just a few days away from today. Has the electorate become aware of the various issues of the state? Have the voters properly scanned the competencies of their leaders? On what basis the voters will exercise their rights?
In order to become politically conscious in a democracy, citizens need to actively participate in the discussions and deliberations related to elections of their representatives for each and every candidate, each and every party, if not in the feasts, tea parties and entertainment. The electorate needs to go through the Election Manifestoes of various political parties and alliances. Election is an effective platform for political socialization in a democracy. Remaining aloof from election-time meetings, discussions and gatherings will be a great miss for responsible citizenry.
A people who loses its king is still a people, but a king who loses its people is no longer a king. As the nation and its people are behind the government, the representative body is the best practical device for giving voice to people’s aspirations. Election is the most important opportunity for citizens to express their aspirations and to participate in the policy formulation and execution of the government. Citizens give votes and responsible citizens vote for responsive leaders.
Right to vote is not given to minors and lunatics because they are not mature enough to participate in governance. Even adults who are not politically conscious may be termed as incompetent voters. Political thinkers such as Rousseau believe that since sovereignty resides in the people, it is the inherent right of every citizen to be entitled to vote. However, other philosophers like John Stuart Mill have the contradictory view that right to vote is a privilege of only those who have proper capacity. The later view suggests that a voter should have the knowledge, awareness and consciousness in political affaires so as to be able to elect true representatives of the people.
In the ensuing 10th Manipur Legislative Assembly election 2012, money and muscle power may play a lesser role this time as strictures imposed by the Election Commission of India will not be only on papers. Election expenditure for candidates is now limited to a maximum of rupees eight lakh only, which appears to be a mockery as compared to previous elections. Amidst hectic canvassing, candidates and their confidants find a hard time to record expenditure item by item, the lapse of which will amount to post-poll drilling by the election commission. Agencies have become more vigilant this time with the purpose of enabling free and fair polling. The measures will help minimize corruption in governance and will enable true social activists to be elected to power. A brighter representation is on the cards in future elections. However, the electorate lacks political consciousness to chose their leaders. It is also doubtful whether the Election Commission will be vigilant and active enough in the remote hill constituencies of Manipur as it is in the valley districts.
In spite of being the ruling party for two previous terms, the Congress party in Manipur is apparently feeling headache with the challenges of the so called Naga-forces in the hills and underground elements in the valley. Moreover, money and muscle power of the ruling Congress will not be manifested due to the tight rope created in the form of Election Code of Conduct as never before. Even though the Congress in Manipur is boasting of having had the most stable government and having taken up many infrastructure development works in the state, the anti-incumbency factor is not totally unseen in the nook and corner. It is obvious that the election code of conduct will not be enforced in the remote hill constituencies as strictly as it is in the valley districts due to various challenges known to all. In such a political scenario, whether the congress will return to power again in the 10th Manipur Legislative Elections is a big query among the laymen.
Even though the measures for free and fair elections have been taken up widely, our voters still lack political consciousness. During election time, agents like the political parties, pressure groups and media have to sensitize and mobilize the public on various issues so as to bring about political consciousness among the voters. The Election Commission of India has also to provide ample opportunities to the political parties, pressure groups and the media to mould public opinion. The voters need to study a number of options before giving their votes.
Although Manipur state has innumerable number of pressure groups for the welfare of the people, they seem to remain dumb during election time. Political parties in Manipur are apparently lethargic in sensitizing the people regarding social, economic, political and cultural issues. They are even not paying serious attention to producing their Election Manifestoes, even if election is just a fortnight away from today. The electorate needs a number of public meetings, literatures such as election manifestoes, broachers, pamphlets and leaflets to dwell on state issues. The role of media also needs to be greater during elections. As the Fourth Estate, media is an important agency to mould public opinion in a democracy. Media has a great responsibility for grooming responsible leaders in the government. If not acting partisan towards particular candidates and parties, the various media organizations of the state need to create platforms for discussions and deliberations on election issues.
Only when there are plenty of opportunities for making the electorate politically conscious of state issues, elections will be more fair and free. Only restricting expenses and enforcing strict strictures are not sufficient for bringing about fair elections.
(The writer is a free lance journalist)