Election to the 10th Manipur State Assembly is just around the corner and candidates, supporters of every political party of varied colour and nature are working on full swing just to be ruler of people again. Some interesting, also vital features of the ensuing election are the emergence of Nagaland based regional political party, Naga People Front (NPF) with full backing of United Naga Council (UNC) in electoral landscape of Manipur, ban on the Congress party by CorCom, a conglomerate organization of seven Manipur based armed organizations, entrance of West Bengal based Trinamool Congress (TC) as a strong contender, near complete decline of the oldest regional political party of Manipur- Manipur Peoples Party (MPP) etc. Against these multitude of political parties contesting for political power to be the ruler of Manipur for next five years, there lies the complete absence of politics in the overall process of election. Only exception to this trend of complete absence of Politics as driving force for winning election, one can mention the name of NPF, which is fighting on the plank of protecting tribal lands, identity and more particularly for the establishment of alternative arrangement for the Naga tribes in Manipur. Nevertheless their goals and objectives are embroiled within the Naga community but still, they seem to be guided by clear political vision and objective.
Political Trends: Some Visible Aspects
The political process in general and election in particular in Manipur society is marked by certain discernible trends. Such trends call for serious engagement on the part of thinking public and leaders who dare to dream for a change in our society. While our society seems to be lacking that brand of species, state is drifting towards an abyss of darkness and uncertainty. One aspect of this trend is manifested in the political condition of contemporary Manipur society and its electoral process.
Unfortunately most of the national political parties are also unable to generate a substantive issue based electoral politics; they simply fight election for the sake of power. This can be gauged from the fact that most people do not understand which political party stand for what principles, goals, objectives, in short their ideology. Besides, their election manifestoes are seldom circulated in the public thus preventing the emergence of widespread debate and discussion on the issues which particular political party stand for. Interestingly in most of the election in Manipur, manifesto of a political party, which is supposed to be the most vital aspect of the election, has become least important. No one take it as seriously as it deserves. Debate over the content of it and review of the previous manifesto which can go a long way in exposing the progress report of a ruling party are conspicuous by its absence in our society. It is hardly visible in the domain of mass media as well. The end product is the emergence of ‘lies’ and lip service as governing political technology on the part of ruling political elites. This technology rests on the foundation of Machiavellian analyses of human nature and character of public as fool, emotional, lacking power of perception and understanding, forgetful in nature etc. Most political parties surgically executed this theory.
Another important feature of the political process in Manipur, which almost signals the death of democracy and arrival of despotism, is lack of opposition. Our recent memory indicates that there is complete lack of strong and vocal opposition groups. Either in State Assembly debate or in public domain, there is disheartening scene of opposition party or group maintaining stoic silence. Any opposition party or group that remained stoically silent against brutal violation of rule of law, democratic norms and procedures, suppression of rights and liberty of the people under whatever pretext by ruling party is as good as dead. Unfortunately this seems to be the order of the day. Opposition groups in the state had failed to show their responsibility of being an opposition party or group on many occasions. When Tehelka exposed the broad day light stage-managed encounter after shooting dead six months pregnant Rabina episode of 2009, when houses of phumdis dwellers’ houses were burnt down very recently and state reeled under food scarcity, skyrocketing prices of essential commodities due to 120 days long economic blockade imposed by UNC and SHDDC which have become almost ceremonial in the state, they (opposition) failed to rise any vocal or whole-hearted protest and criticism against the ruling party. These are some of the issues against plethora of issues where opposition is conspicuous by its absence.
Next important noticeable trend in the electoral process in Manipur is the complete failure of regional party. Take for instance the case of MPP, which had a strong legacy of struggle and vocal exponent of regional issues. It can be reminded that MPP emerged as a regional political party against the backdrop of a critical moment in the historical trajectory of Manipuri society where there was struggle for food, employment, lack of development, step-motherly treatment of the Union of India etc. These issues are ever present in Manipur society and still our society continues to be haunted by these issues, only thing lacking is a strong party guided by clear political vision and goals that is embedded/rooted in the varied but legitimate needs and aspirations of our people and society. Only then the dream of a developed, undivided Manipur and Manipuris as a people can be materialised. Capacity, political acumen and intelligent tact needed to bring regional issues at the centre of electoral process is the first primary step for survival of any regional party in the state, but what we have been surprisingly witnessing time and again is the acumen of incumbent MLAs while transforming themselves from one party man to another party man. This lack of political sincerity and commitment to a cause, along with the rise of three evils of money, muscle and man power as predominant factors in the electoral process have completely degenerated and eliminated politics – as struggle and contest over certain enduring values that are essential marker of being a civilised and developed society. But then politics is also definitely about struggle for power but power by itself is not an end. It always and unfailing evokes a question; power for what?
Standard and quality of election have become too low to expect any substantive result out of it. Election today is no longer a contesting site for those enduring values for which people lives and dies, it has, without any contest, turned into an arena for exposition and application of Machiavellian tactics and methods with an undivided focused on capturing power by any means. Considering the persisting trend, it is apt to comment that in Manipur, election has become the last refuge of scoundrels and mediocre. In the society of Manipur today intellectuals, scholars, genuine social workers are off the arena of election, only contractor turned social workers, bureaucrats (not many) turned politician have flooded the arena. One reason for such trend is the above cited lack of politics in the electoral process and M (money, muscle and man power) factor. But still then, no one can escape from its effects. It is the very spring from which the source and legitimacy of ruling over people flows. It is here that the crucial importance for intervention emerges, no matter how one likes or dislikes.
Election as mechanism for change
With all these drawbacks, election in our society has become the largest festival of merry-making, having great feasts and carousing, and forgetting everything for some days under the opium spell of electoral festival. Who cares about AFSPA, fake encounters, displacement, burning of huts, rights violation, existing conflicts, abnormally high prices of essential commodities, lack of drinking water, electricity, pot-holes in the road, misplaced development programmes etc, etc ? It does not matter much to the public whether our so called representatives acted like our master during their previous tenure whether they violated rule of law, and ruled arbitrarily, and whether there were trigger-happy cowboys and unruly individuals who ruled the state as their own fiefdom. Simply, public do not care. They just enjoy the entertaining part of the festival. Public usually forget that casting a vote is giving authority to rule over us for five years. People habitually cannot grasp this opportunity of election for avenging the so-called pseudo-leaders and representatives. We fear how many electorates would take all these into account while exercising their adult franchise. To expect that people would cast their votes based on merits, demerits, drawbacks and prospects of candidates and political parties is sheer utopianism. But we need utopianism amidst the crisis of our times just to console ourselves that there is hope, there is a bright future beyond this long, dark tunnel of turmoil. Life would go on with or without elections as before. After all, election is not the only mechanism for heralding change in the society. Yet, we must accept that what our society desperately needs is a change, and that too, a revolutionary change.
This article was published in The Sangai Express on Sunday, January 15, 2012