By Deben Bachaspatimayum
Theoretical and practical problems of ‘free and fair election’ and connotations of ‘informed and ethical voting’ with reference to Manipur
Election Commission of India is a self-regulating constitutional body entrusted with holding elections for the president, members of parliament and state assemblies at regular intervals to ensure democracy in the country. ECI is committed to ensure free and fair, and informed and ethical voting to advance democracy in the country. However, ECI’s roles remains limited to conducting of routine election exercise without any control on or influence to legislative processes and politically contested situations that affect or negate the very principles of free, fair, informed and ethical voting of the people. Since informed and ethical voting is critical to promotion of substantial democracy ensuring an enabling judicial, political and economic environment may be more critical site of intervention to develop a sense of freedom from fear and apprehensions in exercising fairness in choosing the right representatives. ECI may have to do more than just conducting periodic elections to ensure legislations are also directed towards advancing democracy at grassroots level.
Since 1990s ECI has evolved innovative systems and mechanisms to ensure free and fair election in the country known as the largest democracy in the world. Issuing voter’s ID, use of EVM and simplifying access and process to electoral rolls, checking non-adherence to rule of law by political parties, voters’ education campaigns, etc. However, during the same time some of the legislations and policy changes relating to security, economy and politics in the country seem to seriously challenging advancement of democracy and socialism in the country while on the other side promotion and advancement of emergence of an elite political class and private companies observed. To mention few, the persistent use of military under the Armed Forces Special Power Act since 1958 (AFSPA) in aid to civil administration directly compromising the fundamental rights including right to life of the people, the denial of existence of internal armed conflicts in the state, the fundamental shift from socialist economy to capitalist economy from 1990, corporate funding of political parties and the use of unaccounted money during election to promote mutual interests of corporate/private companies as the engines for advancing neoliberal economy. Moreover, the existing electoral practices based on multiparty system promoting rule by a minority powerful elite political class elected by a minority of population party loyalists and favoured/paid voters. All of these seriously compromise ‘free and fair election’.
The multiparty electoral system in India has seriously undermined advancement of democracy in the society by allowing unscrupulous people to get away with people’s mandates for their personal/party gains. Data available from the 1ast Lok Sabha election 2009 speaks this loudly. There were 7 candidates in the Inner and 9 in the Outer Manipur contesting the election. Ideally, one candidate would have an average of 11,8,077 of votes in the Inner and 1,01,037 (based on Census 2001) in the Outer constituency representing a marginal population of electors; 14% and 11%, respectively. According to ECI only 70.51% of Inner and 83.41% of Outer constituencies voted in the last election out of the total electors’ populations. The total population of electors (Census 2001) were 8,26,755 in the Inner and 9,09,496 in the Outer. This further reduces the representativeness of elected MPs. The 2 MPs were elected by only 39.5% and 45.4% of the total who voted in their respective constituencies representing only 27.9% of the total electors’ population in the Inner and 37.8% in the Outer constituencies. A study by ADR in 5 states where assembly elections were held in 2008 showed the maximum people’s representativeness was 33% of the total electors in those states.
Statistics show that becoming a law maker and running the State where maximum power and resources are concentrated for use requires only mandate from only a minority voting population. This fact may not seriously bother any elected representative to be concerned about satisfying the majority voters who voted against him and remained divided along several political parties contesting the election. Representing the interests of only a minority also allows opportunities for accumulation of personal wealth, royalties to the party, meeting the needs of his/her loyal voters/cronies to sustain in power running terms to terms. Only the rich and powerful fight election. The situation seriously compromises the democratic principles of equal opportunities and form of government: Government by the people, of the people and for the people. It is also revealing a fundamental flaw in the concept of Decision by Majority in the Parliament/Governance when the MPs are elected by only a minority of section of the population in their respective constituencies. It is now increasing becoming clearer in whose interests and favours the elected Government both at the Centre and State function.
RTI filed by Delhi based CSO, Association of Democratic Reforms (ADR)/National Election Watch (NEW) during the last few years has proved beyond doubts that political parties are heavily funded by Multinational Companies by violating the rules of the laws. Use of huge amount of accounted money much above the ceiling allowed by ECI is an open fact today. The shifts in India’s economic policies in line with global trends has made the State distance itself from its bounden duties of social welfare services while allowing the corporate companies take over those services as profit making activities. Private companies are already lead providers of health, road and communication, education services and also providing maximum contractual employments. The relation between the political parties and private companies are increasingly strengthened serving mutual interests of sustaining in power for the former and increasing profits of the latter to support the former in their favours. This nexus between political parties and private companies supported by minority voters shows the hollowness of the principles of Indian democracy and governance. While this is a common problem for people in India there is also a serious national lie that a state like Manipur has been subjected to in this democratic country.
AFSPA was passed by the parliament as temporary security measures in 1958 to suppress the Naga hostiles but it not only continued to be imposed upon the people who have been consistently voting to elect popular state governments for over the last 50-60 years it also expanded its coverage areas in the entire North-eastern region following the military doctrine of population domination. According to a reliable source, in Manipur alone, there are already 1,00,000 security personnel deployed over a population of 27,00,000 in the state over the years while during the same time the state Govt is also run by a strength of all time record mandate of 42/60 elected representatives from a national political party! The irony of Indian state is not the distrusts of the elected government but also the lies committed by the highest court of justice. In the Supreme Court judgment in 1997 on AFSPA 1958 in response to a case filed by NPMHR the existence of a political issue between India and Manipur and internal armed conflict, thereof, was not only denied but justified the constitutionality of the Act. Despite huge public protests over the years, several recommendations by Govt instituted review committees and the longest and continuing hunger strike by Iron Sharmila the Act continue to be in place in the state. Since the Act, as a stand-alone law in the hands of the Governor /Central Govt consistently continue to be enforced in the state the entire territory under section 2 & 3 declared as ‘disturbed condition’ allowing use of force to the extent of killing on suspicion how can this be normal situation where election be held. How can there ever be ‘free and fair’ election in the state. What would ‘informed and ethical voting’ option for sensible people in the state mean?
Future seems to highly challenging and also hopeful for change at the same time. The growing population of educated and sensible Indian citizenry will not allow demolition of Indian democracy and socialist ideology in the hands of vested interests political class and corporate companies. As results of active advocacy campaigns and litigation activities by ADR/NEW the ECI has finally accepted to provide NOTA option this election to electors following a Supreme judgment. But given the context of Manipur where justice has been consistently denied, violence and corruptions institutionalized in practice as national security strategies NOTA is definitely an opportunity for the people to seek a change in the system. Though it is difficult to say how the electors in Manipur who are used to ‘vote for money/relatives/my lord/personal interest’ would at all use NOTA votes and if at all they do, how would that mean differently from the NOTA voters in the rest of India? While this is still a matter of conjectures, number of votes on NOTA in the context of Manipur, for all the above reasons, could have several meanings, including;
1. All the candidates not being trust worthy
2. Protest against the denial of political issue and existence of internal (non-international) armed conflict in state
3. Protest against consistent use of AFSPA 1958
4. Distrust in the state Government run by contractors under High Commands and for their corruptions
5. Distrust on Indian democracy
6. Protest against neoliberal economic policy and practices of the Govt of India
7. Distrust in the existing multiparty electoral system, etc.
How could any sensible and responsible youth in Manipur feel proud about their becoming a voter on attaining the age of 18 years without addressing underling issues of the problems that affect their day to day lives and thought processes? How many more years the Govt of India will continue to deny justice to the people of Manipur and restore to them their dignity as equally respectable right bearing human persons or citizens? Holding election routine election at the end of 5 years terms in a militarized condition shaped by AFSPA 1958 without even temporarily removing it does not make any sense for democracy and internal security of the country and the people. Multiparty electoral system with neoliberal policy promotes only elite political and wealthy class at the cost of the social welfare for majority population. Hence, it does not promote grassroots democracy. For all these reasons, if India has to prove as truly democratic country in the world’ ECI along with other Constitutional autonomous bodies like AIR/DDK must do more than routine election exercises and singing praises of the ruling Govt in terms of educating and empowering the mass for promotion of grass root democracy, changing the electoral system and monitoring the performance of elected representatives and Govt in terms of delivery of justice. ECI must also, based on its principle of promoting ‘informed and ethical voting’ and ‘free and fair election’ must also intervene internal armed conflict situations where AFSPA has been enforced in the country.
(People’s Campaign for Resurgent Manipur)