Monday, February 6, 2012

Countdown for a clean and fair election has begun

By HH Mohrmen

No sooner did we turn the pages of our calendar to 2012 when parties in the State too started to sound their trumpets of war for the state assembly. But for the first time in the history of the state, apart from the usual inter-party fight for victory in every constituency, this coming election will also be fought at another level of the battlefield. Even before the final war bugle is trumpeted, soldiers are all geared up for the showdown to fight for their respective battlefields. But the battle that will be interesting to watch is the battle against the use of money power during the elections.
While political parties are busy selecting candidates for the 60 seats in the State legislative assembly another group of people with or with no political affiliation are ready to fight against the use of money to influence the voters’ decision in the next election. In one of my earlier articles I had commended Ardent Miller Basaiawmoit’s Clean Politics Campaign (CPC) and quite a few people were against it. The general view is that people supported the move the CPC has taken. Their only reservation is that it is being led by Basaiawmoit a politician affiliated to a regional party. I responded by asking them a counter question: “Do we have anyone else who is willing take the lead in the fight against the invisible and powerful ghost?” I further added that while it is very important to have the right leader for any movement to succeed, but the goal or rather the cause for which the movement is called for is more important and to me leadership issue is secondary.
The point is that those who wish to see change in the politics of the state and who are willing to contribute their time and energy for the cause must join hands and stay united for the cause. It goes without saying that to have a cleaner state politics after 2013, we need to change the way elections are contested among the parties because elections will decide the next 5 years for Meghalaya. It is for the people to decide what they want to see in the coming 5 years rather than allow the game to be played at will without anyone to referee the match that is to bring change; so let the public be the referee for the match.
In my humble observation the Election Commission and the observers that it deputes to oversee electioneering can do very little to officiate the match. For starters they cannot in few days learn the tricks of the trade (meaning the way the election game is being played here). The observers may be top ranking IAS officers but they must surely know that elections are different from one state to another. More over it is a new playground for the referees and in many cases these referees stay put in the government circuit houses of different district headquarters and seldom visit any place other than the office of the Deputy Commissioner. Hence the expectation that Election Observers deputed by the EC would play effective adjudicators is next to impossible. No matter how many observers are posted and no matter how many video cameras the election offices uses during the campaign period, the election can be clean and fair only when people participate in the process. Right now the Commission is only encouraging the people to the participate in the election by ensuring that they use their right to vote, but for a fair a clean election we need to encourage people to move to another level and that is to be involved in the process of having a clean and fair election.
We need to make people understand that it not enough to merely vote in the election and make sure the process goes off peacefully. For successful democracy we need to make sure that the election is fair and clean and allow a level playing field for everyone and that power lies in the hands of the people. It is here that we need organizations like the CPC and I am sure the more we have such organization the better it will be; because the area that needs to be covered is huge and time is very limited. The goal is to make sure the call for a fair and clean election percolates down to the last voter in the villages. Unlike the politicians who have all the resources needed and unlimited time at their disposal, the voluntary activists don’t have that luxury. Hence the need to rope in any willing volunteers on board the battle ship.
The abuse of power by the Rangbah Shnong during election is another reason why I have my own reservations about the institution. People should exercise their right to bring put this to a halt. Almost all leaders in the village desire to be Rangbah Shnong during election time and there is a big reason for that. During elections Rangbah Shnong in most villages command a price for supporting any candidate. There are cases that I know where candidates provided the RS with huge amounts of money to serve tea and snacks (and what have you ) to the villagers during the elections and the candidates make sure the flow of money is continued lest the RS changes his mind. Then the RS are also used by the candidates as canvassers to give an impression to the audience that the candidates command a majority in the village.
Some candidates provide the RS with a vehicle for all the 20 odd days to canvass for them and the RS goes on a canvassing spree as if he has authority of the dorbar. Some RS even have the audacity to claim that he has the entire village in his pocket. The people should put a stop to this and make sure that the institution of RS is not abused and if the person canvasses it should be on his personal capacity as an individual. The office of RS should remain independence to enable the RS to be a real umpire in the village during election time. Our own JFK (to borrow bah Paul’s acronym) and his grand council has a lot of work to do if the archaic institution is to remain relevant in the contemporary times. Bah JFK also has a personal experience in the last MP election ironically with the very institution, the cause for which he spends his time to advocate for. It was alleged that the dorbar shnong of one village in Jaintia Hills had rigged the election in the village in favour of the victorious candidate.
Once bitten twice shy, JFK should learn from the mistake and organize the traditional institutions and against their misuse during election and thereby ensure that similar incidents do not recur. The grand council of chiefs should make sure that the dorbar shnong do not announce the village’s entire support to a certain candidate because it is not only undemocratic to do so; it is also a case of misusing the traditional institution.
If we are to have a fair and clean election in 2013, everyone has a role to play and the Election Commission should also make good use of the services of movements like the CPC, other NGOs and even individuals who are willing to volunteer their time and energy for the cause. We must impress upon the people that rather than dancing to the tune of the politician in the “once in every 5 years tamasha”, it is time that we take a stand and stop the tamasha for good.
(The writer is a research scholar and an environmental activist)

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