A hopeful RTI in a dirty democracy
ARE WE HUMILIATING THE FATHER OF THE NATION ?
“Oh Bapuji ! you are indeed the universal symbol of truth and non-violence. The nation feels very sorry to have your picture on currency notes which serve as source of all violence and vices. Atrocities, thefts and murders are executed on payment of currency notes, and only to get currency notes. Drugs and illegal substances are traded with thick currency bundles. In every act of corruption and nepotism, currency notes exchange hands. People’s democratic rights are sold and purchased with four digit notes. Sadly, Bapuji’s picture is involved in all this misbehavior and violent acts. Are we humiliating the father of the nation by putting his picture on currency notes ?”
Countdown to Panchayat elections has begun. Local body elections are becoming bigger and subsequently dirtier year after year. Number of contestants as well as their expenses have become more this time, as never before. In most wards, the picture is uglier than general elections.
Money and muscle power has always decided the people’s mandate. This is more and more true in villages during local body polls, as backwardness, poverty and illiteracy add to political unconsciousness of the voters. This has reduced the aesthetic democratic convention of electing true people’s representatives to a farce. On what basis voters select their leaders ? Is it on the basis of the past report cards of the leaders or their personality postures ? Or is it really the M factor (money & muscle) that counts in elections ? Frankly speaking, all burning issues prior to elections have been sidelined and election has been turned into mere competitions for wealth of contestants.
Devolution of more powers to local bodies has made grassroots democracy dirtier. Number of contenders for local body elections has increased manifold unexpectedly, mostly lured by the huge funds for village development. Grassroots level leaders are not reluctant to spend more and more, in anticipation of recouping once they are elected. Feasting, picnics and tea parties are no less extravagant than those organized by supporters of legislative assembly elections. No let up in distribution of cash is seen in canvassing. It’s not amazing that candidates for Pradhan-ship frequent their voters in costly vehicles in hordes while expenses for Gram Sabha candidates are counted in lakhs.
Lots of issues are here but none influences the voting behavior. Past experiences prove that promises made on the eve of elections have not been fulfilled after elections. Leaders shout to woo voters, but voters do not heed on issues raised. As money is the only factor that garners votes, it is well said that there is no election issue in Manipur.
Development in Manipur villages is at stake everywhere. However, as the election-day becomes nearer day by day, the pathetic issues of village roads, drinking water, public toilets, housing, jobs etc. are apparently sinking. The M factor raises its ugly head to tarnish the true meaning of democratic people’s election. Most Manipuri citizens do not decide their votes on the basis of issues, personality merits and party preferences. They certainly cast votes on the basis of money and muscle power of the candidates and their agents. It can be rightly established that people of Manipur are not mature enough to participate as active citizens in a democracy. So also the development prospects remain dim even after sixty years of republic.
Very interestingly, the RTI (Right to Information) has manifested its power in the form of criminalizing a number of former elected local leaders on the eve of this election for looting public money. It is very certain that local body elections will no longer be a big gamble, as being perceived by these candidates. Elected leaders will always fail to escape the RTI- empowered public vigil. Thank God, there will be no room for the cheaters.
As per the right to information act, any citizen has the right to know how much money has been sanctioned, for which programme and how it has been implemented. The elected members can not hide the reality. If the information is made public, any false utilization will be turned into court case. So, the leaders of local bodies will not gain much after elected to power. Then, why are they spending much money in electioneering, why are they distributing cash to voters, why are they spending for feasting, parties and picnics ? The answer will be known in a few months time. The RTI advocates and activists of the state can well be appreciated for doing their best in helping the public to get their dues.
It is time we uphold the father of the nation by respecting his picture on cash notes. My appeal is both to the distributers and receivers of cash during elections. Both are humiliating Gandhiji by misusing the cash notes. Let us not use Gandhiji for de-constructing the society and for maligning democracy.