Friday, October 12, 2012

Money – name of the game during election

There you have it, this is from the horse’s mouth and a statement from no less than the President of the Congress party who said that he was offered a bribe of 10 to 20 crore (or 1 million to two million) rupees by aspiring candidates who are desperate to contest on a Congress party ticket from a certain constituency in the ensuing election. It is therefore no longer just media report or columnists’ comments which allege that huge amounts of money change hands during elections. Although the MPCC President retracted his statement the next day, blaming the media for misquoting him or quoting him out of context, everybody knows that the President was caught on the wrong foot. When he realized his mistake he blamed others for it. He will have a lot of convincing to do, to get people agree that the blame lies entirely with the media.
The statement made by MPCC President (subsequently denied) has only exposed the rot that is not only in the Congress but in all the political parties and the entire electoral system that we have. But the question is why now? Why the two individuals from the Jaintia hills district were singled out? Surely many candidates too must have offered the party money to be allotted a party ticket even in the past. There must be a reason why the President chose to make the statement now. The important point of discussion is not what the President of the MPCC has allegedly stated but what he didn’t say. Is the Congress party fed up with the money bags from the Jaintia hills? Have the two business tycoons who are still very much with the Congress gradually lost their influence in the party? Both the individuals have been with the Congress through trials and tribulations and one of them was even caught with huge amounts of money during the last bye election to the Umroi constituency. The Umroi bye-election was a turning point not only for a Government employed technocrat to jump into politics and win the election to the Lok Sabha, but it was also a turning point for Ngaitlang Dhar a businessman with no education, to decide to take the plunge into state politics. Much water has flowed down the river since then and coal mining lobby, seems be gradually losing its grip on the string of power in the state, and the question is, have they been replaced by the cement lobby now?
The other important point must be seen on a positive light and the question is, can we say that the Congress is also fed up with candidates with less or no formal education? The two individuals named in the report are rich businessmen but with little or no education, one especially with no formal education whatsoever and the other has barely completed his lower primary school. The other question is whether the Congress is trying to nip in the bud the dynastic politics that the two are trying to start? Nehlang is vacating Rymbai for his nephew Justine Lyngdoh and Ngaitlang Dhar is the elder brother of the present MLA who is contesting from Nartiang constituency in the 2013 election. The development has only proved what was mentioned in this column a few months ago that Jaintia hills will have more than 7 MLAs after the next election; we already have 3 names from Ribhoi District Nehlang, Ngeitlang and now Barnabas Nangbah. They are all from (the undivided) Jaintia hills. Whoever plays this game has his cards very close to his chest and if he has his way, then Meghalaya will be under his thumb. But it is for the people to decide. Then again with money playing a major role in the election, one doubts if the next election is going bring any change for the state.
As long as elections are decided by the amount of money the candidate can spend, what change can really one expect? The election rules of the Election Commission have no meaning at all; they only operate after the announcement of the election. It is meaningless because the rules operate in a very limited period of less than a month whereas candidates have already started spending money one year or even earlier before the election. Candidates not only spend money to buy party tickets, they also make sure they have the best orator in the area to canvas for them and headmen (especially in the villages) are being taken care of much before the election. Hence the election rules which permit a candidate to spend only 5 lakhs in the election is a farce. A lot of money has already changed hands by the time the election code of conduct is made operational. Money has been spent in providing schemes for the villages, NGOs and even churches make hay while the sun shines to get as much benefit from the MLA as possible. This comes in the form of schemes for the church run schools, providing chairs, cooking utensils for the women groups, music and PA system for the church and even grants for construction of the church buildings (yes this happen in a secular state) and even roads connecting to the churches before the synod .
The blame for the increasing influence of money power during the election is because of the MLA and MP Local Area Development Schemes. Almost every MLA or MP keeps it till the eleventh hour to distribute their respective Local Area Development Schemes. This is a clever ploy to influence people and the ulterior motive is to use the MLA-LADS to buy votes for the MLA for his re-election. The scheme is used but for MLAs’ own selfish gain. The scheme (which is a tax payers’ money) is not being used as it was literarily meant to be which is for local area development. Because MLAs use the MLA-LADS with ulterior motives and at the last minute, the opposing candidates too have no other options but to compete with the MLAs in distributing freebies. The candidates too are seen involved in distributing utensils, plastics chairs etc. to the people, NGOs, Youths clubs and even churches and thereby starts the cycle of corruption even before they become politicians. One is surprised to see that even former student leaders who are now in the election fray for the first time providing heavy machines for tilling play grounds for the village. The question is where did the money come from?
The MLA-LADS/MP-LADS is squarely to be blamed for the deteriorating kind of election that we have in which money dictates and decides which candidate wins. Because of the MLA scheme people are not discussing what change the MLA has brought to the constituency or what new policy has he helped frame for the betterment of the state as a whole, but people are now talking about how much money the MLA gave for ‘our locality’, ‘our Youth Clubs’ and church related activities. Voters are no longer debating about the development that the MLA is able to bring to the constituency, but money is the sole criteria of deciding how good or how bad the candidates is.
Until and unless the Local Area Development Scheme is done away with, this will continue and we will still have elections where money power will play a major role in the elections. MLA scheme must be done away with because it is unfair to the opposing candidates. The sitting MLA already has an upper hand against the opposing candidates and it does not allow a level playing field for all the candidates.
In conclusion we must thank the president of the MPCC for opening the can of worms that is the election process in the state. One really finds it difficult to calculate and contemplate how much it really costs to be a candidate to contest an election? If one has to shell out 10 to 20 crore just for the party ticket; then your guess is as good as mine on how much it costs to contest an election. The state will therefore never have young, bright and educated candidates contesting the election because a lot of money is at stake and, serious candidates will not find the prospect of being MLA attractive since ultimately they will not be gauged by development and the policies they help bring about but solely by the money they spend.

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