Many have said that Indian elections are a festival of democracy. India describes itself as the world’s largest functional democracy. When a newly independent India made universal adult suffrage the basis of elections not all were convinced of its capability to implement it. However, the successful manner in which the very first elections were conducted put these speculations to rest. Since then, over the years, the Election Commission has been conducting elections successfully and improving on deficiencies to increase voter participation and to ensure free and fair polls. Even the President of India has hailed the Election Commission for using innovative ways to reach out to the people, particularly our youth. Article 326 of the Constitution had fixed the minimum qualifying age of voting at 21 years. But, there were persistent demands that the voting age should be lower. Finally, the Constitution (Sixty-First) Amendment Act, lowered the minimum qualifying age to 18 years. In the 10th General Elections to Lok Sabha in November, 1989, an estimated 35.7 million voters between the age group of 18 to 21 years participated and exercised their electoral right. And, ahead of the 16th General Elections in 2014, there were 23.16 million voters between the age group 18 to 19 years alone. In fact, they constituted 2.8 percent of the national electorate. With every election in the recent past, the Election Commission has come up with new initiatives, while its primary mandate remained the conduct of a free and fair poll. The Chief Election Commissioner was always an unpopular figure among the ruling class as the Election Commission comes up with new strictures and restrictions in every Lok Sabha and general election with the objective of an ensuring a free and fair poll. One consistent policy of Election Commission is an effort to break the hold of ruling parties over the bureaucracy during elections. Many a times ECI has overturned the recommendations of ruling government for officials involved in the elections. In the last state assembly elections, the DGP was changed. This time also, officials who are ‘suspect’ has been shunted out from key postings. Besides electoral reforms, voter education and creating awareness to ensure maximum participation has become the mandate of the Election Commission. An innovative exercise of the Election Commission is the Systematic Voters’ Education and Electoral Participation – SVEEP after the Lok Sabha elections in 2009. The Election Commission must be lauded for these efforts and initiatives. All said and done, the ultimate question boils down to the question – whether the efforts and initiatives would be able to bring a perceptible change in voter behavior and the muddied political landscape of the country or for that matter in the state of Manipur. Indian politics have not always been about dynasty or fundamentalism. There has always been a mad rush for power in which everything from caste or religion or any controversy has been racked up for the sake of political gains leaving the country and populace deeply divided. Manipur’s case is no different. A few years after gaining statehood, Manipur had seen a semblance of politics based on ideology and conviction on the part of political leaders who were the remnants of pre-merger political breed. But twenty two years of a make-believe democracy from 1949 to 1972 had laid the foundation of politician-bureaucrat-
businessman nexus which ultimately threw up a political class nurtured in the culture of dependency, greed and corruption. The inheritance lies before us today, a political tribe overshadowed by businessmen, former bureaucrats and contractors. They have no qualms of joining any party which gives them space and recognition. They have no vision or issue as such, which is why many of the parties and leaders are resorting to mud-slinging. Yet, the electorate has few options. And it ultimately reduces elections to a mockery of democratic spirit and values.
Leader Writer: Irengbam Arun
Source: Imphal Free Press