Atono Tsükrü Kense
Since the first general election to the Nagaland Legislative Assembly in 1964, the electioneering process in the State has gradually undergone radical changes. The changes include both the good and the bad practices, and unfortunately, the negatives have inundated the positives in terms of money, muscle power, enticement including divisions among clans, khels and even families.
The electioneering process today, as we see, is absolutely chaotic with no semblance of consciousness among the leaders, public and even the candidates. Regrettably, except for the Clean Election Movement attempted by the Churches, there seems no effort to steer oneself or others to the right direction.
Campaign programmes come with so much pomp and fanfare in packages inclusive of entertainments, feast and obviously, crisp notes in brown envelopes in the form of travelling allowances.
As narrated by some Naga elders who participated in election eons ago, in Nagaland elections were smoothly conducted without much of a fanfare or disturbances of public tranquillity.
Election campaigns those years, as told were characterised by simplicity and short durations where leaders announced their candidature in simple ceremonies, and go around villages in their constituencies to address public gatherings, armed with nothing, but their manifestos.
No doubt, as is the nature of elections, there had been attempts too to entice voters with money or other gifts but people were resolute in their choices based on the party manifesto or the candidate’s character.
Today, the circumstances are quite contrary where blatant exchange of money takes place in the name of their family, units, organisations etc.
The estimated election expense of Rs 10,000 for Parliamentary constituency and Rs 1000 for assembly constituency in 1964 has gone up to over Rs 20 lakh as of today. However, it is evident as to how much is being spent by a candidate, which goes unaccounted for even by the Election Commission of India (ECI).
The sky rocketing election expenditure as projected in the YouthNet’s Post Election Watch Report 2018 stated that a whopping approximate amount of Rs 1061,09,25,000/- (One thousand sixty one crore nine lakh and twenty thousand) was spent by the candidates during the 13th Nagaland Legislative Assembly 2018.
On an average, each candidate spent Rs 5,4,3,372/- (five crore forty one lakh thirty seven thousand three hundred and seventy two). As per the report, the average cost of one vote range from Rs. 5000 -10,000 and the highest average spent per household was Rs. 75,000.
Rampant purchase of votes has become the norm of elections. Regrettably, even most of the village elected leaders and elders have brazenly fallen to the inducements without any remorse of moral obligations. Lakhs of money were distributed to different khels in the villages by the candidates! Indeed, money has become the ‘decisive winning’ factor in the elections.
‘Most of the expenditure during those days was met by donations from supporters and well wishers in the form of money, rice, animals, vegetable, firewood etc’ as told by Dr. Dietho Yhoshü in an interview with this reporter. Today, it would be delusional for any person to consider winning election without spending crores of money.
An incident mentioned in the first general election report 1964, narrated how in the Western Angami Constituency, when a candidate solicited votes from the voters of a particular village, the villagers regretted their inability to consider his request, as they have already given their promise to the other candidate who had approached them earlier. What honest, polite and dignified Nagas were those days!
Elections in the State illustrate semblance of an ‘extramarital affairs’ between various entities and horse trading with agents and voters breaking their ‘electoral pacts’ with their candidates.
In an interaction late in the evening of the polling day, a person said how despite a call for Clean Election by the churches, a local church pastor from his village reportedly sold his family’s voters slip. Polling agents from two political parties also traded their voters slip with another political party, and likewise, the electorates too switched parties for monetary gains on the voting day.
During the 1964 election, in Mokokchung district, it was reported that a woman politely declined the offer of a cup of tea from an agent of a candidate, as she did not voted for him.
To retain power and be in power, a politician is ready to sell his soul. And the vicious cycle of electoral acquisition portrays how decayed the Naga society is, we, the citizens continue to rampantly indulge in all kinds of electoral corrupt practices. The ‘biggest festival of democracy’ has been made a mockery by the very people from a proclaimed Christian majority state like Nagaland.
The verdict for the 2023 general election is out. Only time will unravel the kind of people we have elected as our representatives. Meanwhile, until the next election, we all have a choice to either just sit back and continue to cry foul, unleash our anger on the shortcomings of our elected representatives, or we can, actually do something to utilise the most powerful tool that each of us have - ‘One man, One vote’ as Theodore Roosevelt said “a vote is like a rifle; its usefulness depends upon the character of the user.”
This is a guest editorial by Atono Tsükrü Kense. She is a senior journalist based in Kohima.