By – Ceety Khongsai, Sadar Hills
The 10th Manipur Legislative Assembly Election, held on 28th January and 4th February 2012, was a landmark in the history of Indian parliamentary democracy since independence in 1947. The Election Commission of India (ECI) under the able leadership of Dr SY Quraishi has made a bold and elaborate attempt to curbed electoral malpractices by issuing strict guidelines and instructions to all political parties. The Election Code of Conduct which was binding to all contesting candidates and their workers was also widely publicized through print and electronic media throughout the country form mass awarness and dissemination. In the history of free India, the Election Commission of India (ECI) has curtailed election expenditures to maximum of Rs 8, 00,000/-(Rupees Eight lakhs). This is, indeed, a positive step towards checking muscle power and money in election. However, when it comes to elections in Manipur, it was a different story. Ail the ECI guidelines and instructions are just a tool in the hands of political heavyweights to book the much covet 60 wise men seats in the state assembly.
Photo Electoral Roll:
In an attempt to check proxy voting, the ECI has painstakingly compiled photographs of all voters and affixed those photos against the names of each voter in the electoral rolls for easy identification. The photo electoral roll was issued to all polling personnel in all polling stations. Theoretically, there can be no proxy voters because the polling officer- in-charge of electoral roll can easily identify the bonafide voters. Practically, however, the task of voters` identification was very difficult as photos appeared or the photo electoral roll were blurred and lack clarity. Moreover, in many cases, the photo of a female voter appeared against the name of a male voter and vice versa. It may be assumed that in some extra ordinary cases, incidents of photo mismatches may happened due to technical problem but wanton mismatches of photographs of voters in many polling stations, and the silence maintained by the polling personnel in reporting the matter to the higher authority in the Presiding Officers` diary has raised suspicion in the minds of the people whether this election was a mockery of our parliamentary democracy The printed photo electoral rolls become meaningless as it fail to serve the very purpose for which it was compiled How is it possible on the part of the polling personnel to make false identification of male voters from female voters? How is it happens that polling personnel fails in differentiating between maidens and grandmas? And, how could it happen that a certain candidate in Saikul A/C delegated his voting right to a loyal party worker and the polling personnel failed in noticing the proxy voter? Or is there any provision in our constitution which empowers the contesting candidate to depute someone to cast his vote? These questions are just a tip of the iceberg which merits special attention of the three Special Election Observers while overseeing photo comparison process.
Photography of Voters:
The ECI, for the first time in the electoral history of India introduced a novel idea of photography of voters. The idea was to identify and prevent commercial voters from casting proxy votes. Contrarily, however, in some polling stations the Lemon mobile phones issued to the polling personnel were found technically defective and practically inoperative thereby causing headache to the polling party. Additionally, in many of the interior places of the hills where there are no mobile network it is practically impossible to send hourly reports of poll percentage to the R.O. office. Besides to the resentment of all young and aged people alike photography of voters has excruciatingly slow down the poll process resulting in a low percentage vote record whereas, in fact, many voters nave to return home without registering their vote because they no longer have the stamina and endurance to wait for their turn Whose fault is this? The voters or the snail pace poll process? One Presiding Officer who is close to this writer revealed that voters` identification and photography are just a normal formality Over and above, due to slow process of voting system the whole process of polling was not completed within the stipulated time. Consequently, in many of the polling stations, voter slips bearing the number and name of the polling station with signature of the Presiding Officer were distributed to whomsoever was found standing in queue within the polling area, starting from the last person, to the first person in the bee-line permitting them to cast their votes till the last person register his/her vote. But, as it is known by all and sundry, power cuts, unreliability of power supply and the insufficient candlelight arrangement by the polling party at their own capacity to capture the photos of the voters with fluorescent-like image is next to impossible and amusing. On the other hand, it was clearly stated in the ECI directives that the photos taken on poll day will be downloaded on a computer software specifically installed at the Chief Electoral Officer`s office and comparison be made with that of the photos affixed on the Electoral Roll, in case of complaints from contesting candidates and their workers, and mismatches of photographs, if any, will merit re-poll. In other words, it is a mechanism to cross-checked and verify the camera photo with that of printed photo of the electoral roll. The task of photo comparisons will not be that so easy. Let wisdom and justice ruled the conscience of the Special Election Observers in their herculean task of verifying the true voters from thousands of hitherto unfamiliar mongoloid faces.
Presiding Officer`s Diary : The role and responsibility of the presiding officers have been added double-fold since the introduction of photography of voters. But the most important thing lies in the presiding officer`s diary where detail proceedings of the poll are recorded This diary in turn serves as a core and infallible basis of information inputs in the determination of the poll process. This diary is, as implicitly mentioned in the presiding officers1 diary, supposed to be completed at the polling stations because data such as total votes polled, total number of males and females, poll percentage etc. etc. were to be filled in the diary taking information from the Ballot Unit (EVM) source. Most importantly, the total number of votes polled recorded by the EVM must tally with the total number of votes recorded in the register of voters-Form 17 A maintained by the polling officer No.2 and this should be entered exactly in the R.O.s diary. And, if the instructions laid down by the ECI in the Presiding Officers` Diary is scrupulously followed in letter and spirit the outcome of the 10th Manipur Legislative Assembly Election, 2012 will be totally different. Many of the would-be defeated candidates will get elected and vice versa. However, the presiding officers, not all but many, were found compiling their diaries openly as if permitted by the rules in the office campus of the R.O.s which incidentally happens to be the receiving centres of the EVMs. Now, the tangible question before the intellectuals, academicians, scholars and politicians is whether the information furnished by the presiding officers has the reliability and authenticity because these inputs are the core basis through which fairness of the poll process are determined by the ROs Ts it permissible and acceptable as per rules to do sealing 01 EVMs at the receiving centre? It has also been reported that in a certain polling station the STM card of a mobile phone supplied to the polling station for photography of voters was missing and remain untraceable till date. How could such a laxity on the part of the polling personnel be off the hook? How is it possible that the polling party in question were allowed to submit incomplete poll materials/information as complete in all aspects at the receiving centre by the R.O.? How did the Presiding Officer in question reported the matter to the R.O.? Justice delayed is justice denied. Let the Special Election Observers bear in mind that criminalization of politics is still unabated in this north eastern part of India.
The Poll Observers : In order to oversee and report the matter whatsoever to the Returning Officer, Poll Observers are appointed in all polling stations. Each of the poll observers are expected to visit and enter his assessment of the polling stations under his jurisdiction on poll day in the visit sheet form and hand-over the same to the concerned R.O. through the presiding officer. The remarks of the poll observers, in addition to presiding officers` diary, are the basis on which poll assessment are made by the election commission. But things happen differently at different places depending on time and situation, interestingly, under ADC Kangpokpi the job of poll observers is different from other constituencies as they were seen overseeing the compilation process of the presiding officers” diary at the ADC Office complex by giving them valuable advice on how to fill up the forms, and in many cases, dictating orally about how reports, should be made in the diary rather than visiting polling stations on poll day. It may be suggested that the Visit Sheet Form supplied to the presiding officers should be changed into Waiting Report Sheet because this will be more accurate in defining the true meaning of Poll Observer.
Conclusion : In the backdrop of the above material facts, and the much publicized electoral reforms initiatives spearheaded by Dr SY Quraishi, the Chief Election Commissioner of India (EC1), it is a shame to learnt that in this part of northeastern state of Manipur, electoral politics and voting behavior is still smeared by money and muscle power. It is outrageous and scandalous to learnt that at a time when the whole country is moving towards transformation of the entire electoral system by introducing EPICs and developing computer software capable of downloading photographs of each voters principally to put an end to the evil practices of voting by muscle power, corruptions, proxy, intimidation, false identification, booth capturing, rigging and other vices, the photograph of a winning-hopeful candidate in 46-Saikul(ST) assembly constituency was reported to have been amazingly replaced by the photograph of a Nepali. More astonishing revelation in the same constituency is about the superficial resurrection of the dead persons exclusively for casting their votes on poll day!! It is painful to know that under-development and poverty stricken people in many places of the hills are unconstitutionally denied their constitutional citizen`s right of franchise in a rare once-in-five-year chance of electing representatives of their choice to air their decades old unrepresented views and grievances in the 60 wise men assembly seats. It is, therefore, high time that every citizen of our state rise up and stand in unison with single voice and affront unitedly all vices of election to restore the lost paradise-Manipur and make a better place to live in.