Penalty Forgotten

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The vacillation over whether to hold repoll or not in Manipur on allegation of proxy voting has brought out yet again a very serious but continually sidelined issue. Since photo identity cards are now available for all voters and instant photographs of all who turn up to vote on the day of voting were taken, it is obvious identity of those who transgressed the law and which polling station would be known exactly. This being the case, the question should not be just of repoll or no repoll, but of penalty for those who broke law as well as law keepers who allowed this transgression. It is heartening that a repoll is being planned after initial hesitation, but as we have said, the issue goes much beyond this. We suggest a committee be immediately formed so as to spot all those who committed the crime of impersonation and proxy voting, and once done, these men and women to be suitably punished as per law. We also suggest the government, immediately after the election process is concluded, institute an inquiry to track down where the official lapses have been and punish officials responsible for the lapses suitably, again as per law and the degree of neglect or compliance as the case may be. Failure to do this would lower the esteem of the law before the public. Unfortunately, such degradation has today become a practised norm rather than exception.

It is time to clean up the act. Everybody talks so much about the electoral process being rendered a farce every election year, yet nobody seems bothered thinking of remedial measures imaginatively. Few in the government or election planners have ever looked outside of the claustrophobic box they are trapped in to look for answers to the urgent woes the electoral process is suffering from currently. What is also often forgotten is, the loss is not just in term of one unfair election, but a conditioning of the public attitude that cheating in elections has no direct personal prices to be paid. This, nobody would dispute, is the ground for perpetuating the farce that everybody accuses elections in Manipur to be. It is time to pull the plug. This election more than any other is the right occasion to do it, for as we have said there would be overwhelming evidences to isolate those who wilfully cheated and thus degraded what is indeed the most important foundation of democracy in the state. As a demonstration the long arms of the law still exist in the state and country, and that the law would not turn the other way when electoral crimes are committed, the law must be invoked now to confront the cheats. If this were done, electoral cheating would no longer be treated so casually as it all along has been in the decades that have gone by. Conversely, if nothing is done this time, even when there are glaring photographic evidences of what seems to be rampant cheating, this malpractice would get even more brazen and widespread in future elections.

The fallout would go even farther. In fact the belittling of law by lawmakers and law keepers has been one of the chief reasons for the almost total decay in the law and order situation in the state. Take for instance a simple example of the traffic chaos that has become everybody’s daily nightmare in Imphal. Nearly everybody takes turn to break traffic norms, together contributing to the frustrating and time wasting traffic jams on practically all major roads during office going and returning hours. True there is an element of individual selfishness in the urge to jump queues and be ahead of others who deserve to be in front by virtue of being there first, but the law is also meant to regulate this selfishness. Nobody is ever pulled up for breaking these norms, and there is no way this can be done effectively for among those who break these norms most often are precisely law makers and keepers. A few months ago none other than the chief minister of the state Okram Ibobi had announced publicly that nobody except the Governor would be allowed to use the sacrosanct space of the Kangla as vehicular thoroughfare. Quite ironically, today, practically every government official who considers himself a VIP, except the Governor, and every uniformed personnel of the government, continues to use the Kangla as thoroughfare as if it were their birthright. Under the circumstance, how can anybody expect the law to command any awe amongst the public.

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