The National
Eric Randolph
New Delhi

Separatist rebels shot dead five people at a polling station yesterday in India's remote north-east state of Manipur during local elections.

The heavily armed rebels killed three polling station officials, a paramilitary trooper and a civilian as they sprayed the station with bullets in Thangpi, a village south of the state capital, Imphal, police said.

The attack is believed to be the work of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland.

Manipur, home to as many as 40 rebel groups, has been hit by a series of low-level attacks in recent days as separatists sought to disrupt yesterday's elections, which they see as a symbol of New Delhi's exploitative control over the state.

Meanwhile, a new report has found that politicians seeking re-election in the 60-seat assembly have seen a four-fold increase in their assets since joining parliament five years ago.

Co-authored by two non-governmental organisations, the Association for Democratic Reforms and North East Election Watch, the report looked at how much money incumbent candidates had made during their five years in power.

Under election rules, every candidate must provide details of their finances, as well as any criminal records and their academic background.

For the 41 members fighting to retain their seat this year, average personal wealth increased from 2.3 million to 12 million rupees (Dh171,000 to Dh893,000), an increase of 414 per cent.

The 27 members from the ruling Congress party had an average increase in personal wealth of 563 per cent, the report said.

The authors say the report provides damning evidence of corruption in Manipur, considered one of the most graft-ridden states in the country.

"We tried to analyse the income sources of these politicians, and found that they were very unclear," said Tasaduk Ariful Hussain, lead coordinator for North East Election Watch.

"The only explanation in our view is that a whole range of development funds are being siphoned off for personal gain."

Members of the administration could not be reached for comment, but chief minister Ibobo Singh admitted in parliament last month that: "Corruption is a malady in Manipur."

He was introducing an anti-corruption bill that sets jail terms of up to five years and fines of up to 200,000 rupees for those found guilty of graft, but it has met with a sceptical response.

"Corruption has become so institutionalised that people think it's normal for people in power to become rich while ordinary people get nothing," said Pradip Pradip Phanjoubam, the editor of Imphal Free Press in the state capital.

"There is a shared looting of the state. Development funds are shared with contractors who never carry out any work."

Manipur benefits from large amounts of central government funding designed to improve conditions in one of the country's most neglected regions, but there is little evidence of their effect on the ground.

"Critical changes need to happen in our electoral process," said Mr Hussain. "We need mandatory investigations by income tax department to find out where the wealth of politicians is coming from, and voters need the option of choosing 'none of the above' when they see that none of the candidates are acceptable."

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