Sunday, January 22, 2012

Election as Negotiating Basic Needs

The 10th Manipur State Assembly Election will witness 289 candidates of different political parties contesting in 60 constituencies of Manipur. Unlike the previous Assembly Election, the Election Commission of India (ECI) has limited the electioneering time/campaign. But inspite of declaring a expenditure ceiling the Commission has not been able to limit the actual process of spending as it’s unaware of the cultural situation of Manipur. For example, lunch and dinner parties hosted by contesting candidates continue to be a regular phenomenon of the forthcoming election. These kinds of spending are beyond the purview of ECI. The ECI should also include the local people to help in their exercise. Not only these, it would not be wrong to observe that the intending candidates sponsored the bye-bye (31st December 2011) and New Year parties in many constituencies through their sympathisers. Besides, hosting parties, youth friendly items like sports materials were also distributed by their sympathisers or the sympathisers sanction money directly to the youths to buy items of their choices. It is almost like a festival session that comes once in five years where you get free food, money and unlimited enjoyment. But this situation derogates the mind of the people particularly the youth and also created conflict between people of different intending candidates. Even family members are divided over the issues forgetting that, after election they will be another people in front of the elected candidates.
But, when the people are revolving around the issue of free food, money, enjoyment and also planning what to be extracted from the intending candidates, they miss to raise the crucial basic needs which will shape their future. Amartya Sen called this basic need as ‘Freedom’ which he sees through development. In order to achieve development, he argues for the requirement of removing poverty, tyranny, lack of economic opportunities, social deprivation, neglect of public services, and the machinery of repression. But the construction based ministers see construction as the only development in Manipur. So, when the Prime Minister and Sonia Gandhi visited Manipur to inaugurate the incomplete Capitol projects, they ask for more construction project like Five Star Guest House which will be beyond the reach of the common people. What concerns us is why they come to inaugurate the incomplete projects and why are they so hurry in inaugurating it. Similarly, the incomplete Khuga Multipurpose project in Churachandpur district was inaugurated by Sonia Gandhi in 2010 with a construction record of 29 years. When enquired about the projects, we were informed that since the inauguration is over, we don’t know when it will complete but we don’t expect that soon.
Amartya Sen’s development view is also witnessed in Manipur but mostly on papers. It is not that they are not aware of these views but the issue of giving immediate result or income is the first priority as they are not sure that they will come back. If somehow they come back, they feel more comfortable in this income business. That after 10 years of stable government, we are moving backward with no regular supply of water, electricity, no good roads, failed education and health care systems etc. We failed to find anything to say this area is better. Not only they looted the public money, some of them even went to the extent of bringing migrants and make them settle in their constituencies for election. What they failed to realise is that the migrants’ population is outnumbering the local tribal population and it is going to exceed it if the process continues.
We all are aware that we hardly gets six hour of continuous electricity even in Imphal city except the VIP lines. The situation is same for the government employees who are forced by the government to pay the electricity bills whether they get electricity properly or not. What is surprising is that the bill is almost same as those who are getting the VIP lines. Presently, Manipur is receiving 32.8 MW during day time and 80 MW during night time as reported by Sangai Express on 12 January, 2012. In this limited 32.8 MW, only 29.2 MW is available to the consumers as 3.6 MW is lost in transmission. The share of Manipur is 122.87 MW. But, the power requirements of the State during winter and summer are respectively about 180 MW and 110 MW at peak hours as disclosed in response to an RTI query by the electricity department. The situation of drinking water shares the same fate with no proper supply even within the Imphal areas. But on paper, there are reports of laying of pipes for drinking water in most parts of Manipur without supply of water. Manipur particularly Imphal areas is facing water crisis. If these continue for long, there might be a conflict for water. In addition, a person hardly gets their share of PDS items. If after a long time it comes, then also you get in less quantity. The reason given by the agents are numerous. The inability of the state also contributes to the failure of PDS system. For instance, the state has failed to lift the Kerosene oil for the last many months. This has severely affected the common people who are forced to buy the kerosene oil at Rs 70-80 per litre instead of Rs 14, which is the subsidised rate fixed by the Government. The crisis of Kerosene was reported in 12 January, 2012 in Sangai Express. Besides kerosene, petroleum products like petrol, diesel, and cooking gas are a matter of concern for the common people. Whether it is during blockade or without blockade, the price as well availability is a big challenge. The average price for petrol is Rs 100-150, diesel is Rs 60-80 and cooking gas is Rs 1000-1500. But the government not only failed to provide these things but also fails to check the black marketers. It is like they are collaborating to raise the income for the election.
The Manipur Human Rights Commission (MHRC) is defunct for more than a year whereas the women commission is with no support. But neither ruling nor opposition or intending candidates are raising the issues. The people have filed PIL to revive the MHRC but both the ruling and opposition parties are indifferent to it in-spite of the ruling of the Guwahati High Court, Imphal Bench. It is an open secret that Rs 15-20 lakhs are mandatory fees for recruitment as Sub Inspector (SI), the prices for subordinates posts are little lower. But in-spite of raising the issue of removing corruption, no one pin-point this issue openly. The reason could be, many of them must have been involved in getting things done or their children are running for the post. The issue are endless but it does not mean the people are demanding everything but the basic minimum needs.
What is unfortunate in this situation is that the intending candidates are raising the personal issues of their rival candidates instead of discussing the basic needs. They are more into ‘I am good than him/her’. They try to expose the rival candidates as much as possible. With all these debates, the issue has been sidelined. Most of the political parties speak of removing Armed Forces Special Powers Act 1958 (AFSPA), Territorial Integrity of Manipur and resolving the issue of self-determination as a main issue through their manifesto. But I personally feel that they are almost making a false promise to the people which they have been doing in every election as it is the best way to exploit the sentiment of the people. But, they all are quite aware that they cannot do anything and have not been doing anything constructive in this regard. It is the constant pressures by the people of Manipur that government of India can no longer sideline the issue. Similar is the issue of territorial integrity. Numerous resolutions are taken by the government of Manipur and submitted to the Government of India but still they are playing the card of territory. It is only the public pressure through uprising that the government of India is hesitating to take any decision. The uprising of 2001 seems to be fresh in their mind. In regard to self-determination movement, most of the political parties either ruling or opposition failed to raise even the issue of human rights violations at a significant level. Then, how we can expect them that they will raise the issue of self-determination. They seem to feel that raising the issue is anti- national and they fear of being branded as anti national which is not the case. Likewise, the 120 days economic blockade failed to reach the Parliament effectively. This indicates their capacity as well as the political will to deal with the issues of Manipur. People don’t usually see them as an agent of change. They are more like an implementing agency with no decision making authority. The ECI is much better than the government. Government failed to provide petrol and diesel even after blockade but ECI have done it in few days after declaring the code of conduct.
Whatever the situation is, it is not affecting the ruling and elites class, whether it is tribal or non-tribal of Manipur. They get VIP treatment for everything such as water, electricity or any other service. Such issues only concern the common people. Those who are enjoying the periodic election like a festival also suffer the same problem of basic needs. Eating a free food or getting some money or anything free of cost in the name of election will not change anything. It is like the more you eat, the more they will eat the public money. So we should not take this opportunity as a festival but an opportunity to negotiate the basic needs that are confronting us in our existence. This does not mean that they will address the issue but at least we can sensitise the reality to these intending candidates and their sympathisers. But negotiating for basic needs should neither undermine nor overlook the armed self-determination movement in Manipur as election is not equal to exercising right to self-determination as observed by United Nations.

This article was published in The Sangai Express on Sunday, January 22, 2012

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