Imkong Walling

Election process in the Nagaland Parliamentary seat was completed on April 19, as part of the first phase of polling to elect the 18th Lok Sabha, with only a half of the state’s total registered electors turning out to vote. As announced by the state’s Chief Electoral Officer (CEO), after polls closed, the Nagaland Parliamentary seat polled an estimated 56 percent.

In a state known for unfailingly returning high polling percentage, even crossing the 90 percent mark, the low turnout was largely on account of an estimated 3.5 lakh electors in 6 districts, namely— Mon, Tuensang, Longleng, Kiphire, Shamator and Noklak, abstaining en masse under the banner of the Eastern Nagaland People’s Organisation (ENPO). A Government of India pledge for a new arrangement called the Frontier Nagaland Territory for the ENPO bloc remains unfulfilled.

The turn out on April 19, 2024, was the lowest since the 1998 Lok Sabha polls, when the state polled 47.38 percent, a figure, which, to date, remains the lowest since the state sent its first representative to the 4th Lok Sabha in 1967.

The 1998 elections, which ran simultaneously with the state Assembly polls, happened at a time when a strong “solution before election” wave, backed by the NSCN (IM) and the major civil society organisations, coursed through the state barely months after the signing of the Ceasefire agreement between the Government of India and NSCN (IM) in July 1997. The elections went ahead as scheduled with the prominent state/regional parties of the time boycotting it and even the BJP supporting the call for postponing the state polls. 

The intention, however, is to highlight a blotch in the democratic electoral system. 

In India, the Representation of the People Act, 1951, serves as the legal framework for conducting elections. It however, does not say anything on minimum polling percentage, implying that a low or high voter turnout has no impact on the outcome of an election. A constituency may poll less than 20 or 10 percent of the total votes but there would still be a result, the candidate polling the highest votes declared the winner. Infact, such instances have occurred in the then undivided state of Jammu and Kashmir.  The election of 43 Congress candidates, unopposed, to the 9th Nagaland Legislative Assembly in 1998 was a similar instance. 

Maybe that is how electoral democracies are designed to work but it conflicts with the conceptual principles of democracy. Going ahead with the April 19 polls, in the Nagaland Parliamentary seat, was tantamount to ignoring almost a third of the electorate, who consciously abstained.

On the contrary, low voter participation or abstention can be indicative of latent issues like voter disillusionment or lethargy and even disaffection with the electoral contenders, which can further serve as pointers for policy-makers.

There is another clearly observable but ignored phenomenon casually termed “proxy voting.” Promoted by the political parties, candidates and their agents, honoured by village/colony councils and elders alike, it has served Nagaland to consistently return inflated polling figures contrasted by thin queues. It is invisible to a myopia-ridden Election Commission of India and the state Chief Electoral Office, their vision stopping short at the high-gated office complexes. 

They would seek proof but cross-checking the signatures or thumb impressions collected at the polling booths will unquestionably present a true picture of what the polling officials and observers allowed under the patronage of  the local councils.

The writer is a Principal Correspondent at The Morung Express. Comments can be sent to