Sunday, February 26, 2012

Dubious Electoral System : Republic or Oligarchy

Photographs don’t lie
Thanks to the new system of taking voters’ photographs and subsequent comparison with their photographs affixed on Elector Photo Identity Cards (EPICs), the real character of the Indian republic has been exposed to the core like never before. For the first time, it has been proven beyond doubt that people are mere pawns in the nasty game called electoral politics. 2012 would go down the history of Indian elections as one of the most significant years and Manipur would inevitably occupy a prominent position in the annals of Indian republic for it is in this tiny Northeastern State that voters’ photographs were taken and compared with their EPIC photographs for the first time. Since the Indian republic came into being, the periodical elections have been grand festivals of showdown between rival candidates in the form of flexing muscle power, throwing money power and browbeating ignorant or rather innocent voters. It were those candidates who were stronger and richer that won the elections. The question of popularity or competency never figured in the electoral system of India, officially called the Republic of India. The result is there for all to see. Almost one-third of the Indian MPs have multiple criminal records and around half of them are millionaires.
However, all along, the mass were made to believe that they were electing their own representatives and that they could elect candidates of their own choice. The powerful media and the far-reaching state propaganda machinery have been churning out edifice after edifice of false propaganda and lies misleading the unsuspecting public. We wonder the present set of MLAs and MPs, and their predecessors, the so-called representatives were actually elected or selected. We just cannot imagine the degree of electoral malpractices and arm-twisting tactics that our sitting MLAs and MPs would have probably employed in the previous elections when there was no restraining order and there was no polling day photography as witnessed this time. And we call them our representatives and the country a republic. How silly of us ! It is in fact the candidates who decided their own fates during elections, not the mass. Winning or losing an election all depended on how many millions a candidate can spend, how effectively he/she can employ all sorts of arm-twisting tactics and how much he/she can hoodwink the mass by means of volumes and volumes of lies, and of course impressive promises which would never see the light of day. After all the rival candidates have utilised all the resources and wits, it is again Darwin’s Theory of Natural Selection, not the mass which would ultimately elect the most capable (sic culpable) candidate to the State Assembly or the Parliament.
Criminalisation of Politics
The functioning of Indian electoral system has experienced a number of disadvantages and shortcomings. The inconsistency between the votes registered for a party and the seats conquered in State Assembly or Parliament, the multitude of political parties, personality cult in party system, utilization of communal allegiances and armed hoodlums, excessive employment of muscle and money power, wrongful utilization of governmental machinery, corruptive exercises like booth-capturing, intimidation and impersonation of voters are ubiquitous negative features of Indian electoral system.
Election offences range from the physical conquest of booths to the mobilization of youth organs of parties or armed thugs who could target and intimidate certain sections of people or communities prior to the election either to give votes in favour of the candidates they are working for or completely stay away from voting. It is also not untrue that sometimes the polling officials are bribed and cajoled into indirect acceptance at certain levels of the election process. Only the polling officials can give a satisfactory explanation for the sheer large number of mismatching photographs as well as for the photographs taken in certain polling stations of Andro AC which have mysteriously turned out blank. The threat of booth occupation has been prevalent from the days of second general election of 1957, particularly in Bihar. The incident slowly and steadily was diffused throughout the country in various kinds and degrees.
The growing tendency for criminalization in elections obliged parallel ballooning of election expenditure. In addition to bribing voters individually, it has also come into vogue to hire musclemen or armed hoodlums who could assure triumph by seizing booths or frightening voters. This practice significantly accelerated the pace of criminalisation of politics and the rise of politician-underworld network. In the course of time, the criminals themselves began participating in elections instead assisting or sponsoring others. On some occasions the politicians considered it essential to politicize the bureaucracy to operate in consonance of the ruling party on the eve of election. The official machinery is exploited to amass data on political competitors. The official machinery serves useful in hiring crowds, intimidating targeted sections of voters, creating local tensions, conditioning staff for poll duties, enrolling additional voters or removing certain names from there etc. They too, alternatively encourage the bureaucracy to coin money with a view to remain vulnerable. In the due course, considerable segments of bureaucracy are encompassed into the politician – underworld – bureaucracy web. In its attempts to purge of the electoral procedure, the Election Commission has prohibited transfers and promotions with the announcement of election dates. Notwithstanding its importance, the same step is not quite effective as election preparations are generally undertaken much ahead in time. Despite the model code of conduct that has been even more rigidly implemented starting from the days of TN Seshan as the Chief Election Commissioner, all sorts of election malpractices continue to dog the Indian electoral system as witnessed in the State recently. Election scene in Manipur was rather more complex as many militant outfits were directly or indirectly involved in the process.
Electioneering, of course is a costly affair. Mass illiteracy being an important factor, a candidate is asked to make large scale personal intimations with the voters which employ enormous expenditure. The increasing distance of political parties from the people is another cause for making elections to be so costly in the present day. Transport, publicity and organizing the campaigners require huge amounts of money. The ambition to win an election at any cost and the ever deepening dependence on the muscle power in elections have facilitated unexpectedly large spending amassed through questionable methods, by the political parties and their candidates.
The distance between expenditures spent in an elections and legally constrained limit on spending is also enhancing amazingly. Ceilings on campaign expenses being limited, black money in shape of donation to election funds of political parties or influential leaders have assumed to be an admitted reality. About 90 per cent of all election funds are accrued from the big business houses in exchange for special favours or patronage. In Manipur it is the smugglers and contractors who were investing heavily in prospective candidates. What they expect in return is obviously a protective political shield against their not so legal or socially acceptable business enterprises. This does not only eliminate capable and efficient men and women from electoral contests in absence of financial backing but also fosters criminalization of politics.
Republic or Oligarchy
Mere conducting of elections periodically does not mean that we are republic and have an effective democracy. It is the way elections are held, the quality of people elected, their performances that would determine whether the existing political set-up is a republic or not. In current scenario, the widespread disillusion in the existing political system is quite comprehensible without any difficulty. Poverty, unemployment, illiteracy levels indicate the inefficiency of the political system. Even after 60 years of independence, people in this part of the country suffer from lack of basic amenities in life. It was reported that if a law is passed as to those with criminal and corruption charges are to be disqualified then around 93 MPs and 10 Ministers in Dr Manmohan Singh’s ministry stand disqualified.
Acts of the Indian State particularly elections in Manipur and North East is a sheer hypocrisy. These are not elections but periodical systematic selection of the most suitable politically uneducated politicians who work for personal profits and interests in the name of public office. The whole election drama is a pre – arranged and pre- determined ritual of the ruling class which is sine qua non for continuance of the existing system. With all the processes of election and ruling the State confined within a small clique of super-rich and powerful people, the notion of India being a republic takes a beating before the concept of oligarchy. The Election Commission of India has now ruled out any more re-poll in Manipur which means candidates who manipulated the poll process to the maximum enjoy far greater chances of winning the elections. Then where does the idea of republic fit in the whole scheme of Indian electoral system. Having said all these, we can only add, as someone said, politics is the last refuge of a scoundrel and many more scoundrels.

This article was published in The Sangai Express on Sunday, February 26, 2012

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