Election of the rich and powerful

          MANIPUR goes to the polls for the eleventh time to elect a new ‘house of the people’ in two phases on March 4 and 8. Though the past three assembly elections had relatively been an easy outing for the Indian National Congress, this time around the outcome is likely to be different owing to sharp polarisation of the voters in the hills and valley assembly constituencies as the democratic duel is being fought on various sensitive issues. The coming elections are invested with an even greater degree of significance and speculation for there is strong possibility of the state masses giving a hung mandate. The very fact that as a people, Manipuris renew their faith in the power of the vote through successive peaceful and fair polls is testimony to their entrenched belief in the efficacy of the democratic system. This is the reason why, notwithstanding the huge expenditure involved in the exercise, which a resource starved state like Manipur can ill afford, elections are regarded not as a luxury but as an essential component of democracy. From the social context, elections have been a great equaliser, offering identical opportunities for exercising choice to the entire electorate - poor or rich, rural or urban, educated or illiterate, skilled or unskilled, male or female. More importantly, elections have become a way of life and an exercise of faith for the state masses. Successive elections have both enhanced and deepened the people’s commitment to democracy and made them fully conscious of the value of his/her vote and the power of the ballot as the most potent instrument of change.

              Contrary to the general perception of Manipur being an economically underdeveloped state, the ensuing elections will feature over 50 crorepatis heartily welcoming all and sundry to their once secluded palatial buildings and see them profusely seeking the blessing of the poorest of poor people. As per the report of Manipur Election Watch and Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), self-sworn affidavits of all 167 candidates from 17 political parties, including six national parties, five state parties, and 14 independent candidates who are contesting in the first phase elections, pointed out that there 54 exceedingly wealthy persons whose fate would be decided by the most ordinary citizens. Significantly, the recently published report also worked out the average assets per candidate contesting in the first phase at Rs 1.04 crore each. Based on the report, it would not be wrong to construe that Indian elections have literally been transformed to a democratic process where almost all the contestants have hefty bank account, and possibly even more money that have not been accounted for. The Election Commission of India, which has been orchestrating both parliamentary and assembly elections in the largest democratic country, has been taking up various measures to curb the use of money and muscle power, and it seems the election-conducting authority has to some extent been successful in checking acts of violence. However, the commission will have to take the most stringent steps and remain on high alert in case it wants to effectively tackle the menace of ‘money for vote’ trend, which has been the most talked about topic in the run-up to elections conducted in the state.

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