Sangai Express
Oinam Nabakishore Singh (IAS retd)

Once again, general election to the Lok Sabha, the lower House of Parliament, has arrived and it has given the voters an opportunity to choose their representatives. Unlike in the past, the present election is being held after the state has witnessed violence, hatred, strife for identity and power.There are a few voices of rejection of poll from powerful groups like Keithel Imas, Meira Paibis and residents of relief camps. Despite opposition, it is certain that elections will be held as scheduled. In elections, it does not matter as to how many people cast their votes. What matters is which candidate gets more votes regardless of the number of the total number of votes polled, individual votes secured or the size of the margin of votes secured between the candidates. Differences of a single vote between the top two candidates will make or break the outcome. It means that a single vote of the voter is so important that it can make all the difference.

In order to enable an informed choice of political party and its candidate by the voter, a host of inputs are required. Under the Constitution of India, the Election Commission of India is entrusted with the task of conducting elections to the Parliament and State Assemblies. The Election Commission uses the state machinery to conduct elections by exercising its powers under the Representation of People Act, 1950 and 1951 and Conduct of Election Rules, etc. Voter education is one of the important tasks performed by the Election Commission. It implements its flagship programme of Systematic Voter Education and Electoral Participation(SVEEP) in order to reach out to voters and educate them about various aspects of election and importance of voting in election. Political parties and candidates too try to persuade voters through various channels. Face to face interaction with the voters allows the candidates to be known physically and to some extent their personality, while many other aspects remain unknown. In an election like that of a parliamentary one, it is not possible to adopt such a mode of campaign. Speeches of leaders of political parties and candidates at various forums like TV debates also allow voters to assess the candidates and their suitability for the job. Election Manifestos delineate the promises of the political party if it comes to power. However, very few voters know about it and it is too lengthy for them to find time to read. It serves little purpose except for the opponents to find fault and criticize the political party.

Some non-government organizations like the Peoples Union for Civil Liberties, Common Cause, Association of Democratic Reforms, etc. have sought intervention of Supreme Court of India to bring about improvements in the electoral process. One of the blots on democracy is the election of a large number of representatives, both in Parliament and Assemblies, having serious criminal records. 43% of MPs elected in the 2019 Lok Sabha election had criminal charges. Through an order passed by the Supreme Court of India, it is now made mandatory for the intending candidates to disclose their criminal records in an affidavit when nomination papers are presented to the Returning Officer. Besides, assets and liabilities of the candidates and their spouses and dependents, highest educational qualification of the candidate are required to be disclosed in the same affidavit. The goal of such disclosures is to inform the voters of the candidates’ suitability for the job they are after.

In the case of Manipur, especially with regard to the forthcoming election to the Lok Sabha, it is critical to fully appreciate the candidates and the political parties supporting them. For a small state like Manipur, regional parties have become insignificant over the years, and whichever political party is in power at the Centre sway in Manipur. In the light of violence and untold suffering of people in Manipur, majority of the voters in the state have assessed the performance of the ruling party at the Centre and state. By and large, there appears to be a mood of despondency with the present state of affairs and governments both at the Centre and State. However, other political parties also do not hold much promise to bring peace and stability in the war-torn state. Nevertheless, the candidates are vibrant and promising. They are full of energy and competence.

In the midst of the crisis, it is not uncommon to see the womenfolk visiting the office of Chief Minister in large groups. There are allegations of coaxing them to vote for the party in power. The choice of voters is between inducement and a better representative. Will the voters of Manipur value cash more than a good future from a political party and candidate? Normally, all of us prefer a short-term gain for an uncertain long-term gain. It is rightly said by many people that our future is in our hand-vote. Make the right choice for a better future. It will be better to not listen to the leaders. Rather, listen to your inner voice and conscience, and participate at the election. Those who have decided to boycott the election must reconsider and exercise their franchise for a better Manipur.

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