This article was published in The Sangai Express.
Another game of musical chair is round the corner. The game is the forthcoming general election to the 14th Lok Sabha of Indian Parliament. Manipur host this sporting event on 20th and 26th April 2004. There are two groups: one group represents inner Manipur Parliamentary constituency while outer Manipur Parliamentary Constitution represents the other group. Players from each group have started filing their nominations and the real contestants will be known once the scrutiny is over. All the players are really trying their best to become skilled at timely delivering of the jingle of "false" promises to impress the judges (electorates).The winner from each group will represent Manipur and receive amenities of New Delhi as an award and moreover if luck clicks a ministerial berth in the cabinet.
Representative Parliamentary democracy calls for a system of choosing representatives of the people and for a suitable machinery adult franchise. Elections are complex events involving individual and collective decisions, which directly affect, and are affected by the total political and social process. They open up channel between the polity and the society, between the elites and the masses, between the individual and the government. They are major agencies of political socialization and political participation. But what Manipur is experiencing today is just the opposite social reality.
It is a matter of delight to note that under the universal adult franchise, the people of Manipur became the first to enjoy the fruits of democracy by electing the Assembly, the first of its kind so constituted, in the entire Indian sub-continent in 1948. But is it really a matter of pride taking into account the customary political mayhem in Manipur? Then Manipur was merged into the Indian Union in 1949 and became a Part C state of the Indian Constitution. Manipur was granted statehood in 1972.
In the general election to the Lok Sabha, Members of Parliament are elected. They act as the channel that links the people of the constituency/ state and the centre. They are elected to highlight the various socio-economic and cultural problems that the state is running through into national attention. But more than these roles, another important role, which they ought to perform, is to get to the bottom of these problems. Unfortunately, these are only utopian dogma to our representatives since they fail to deliver their role set. They could not live up to the promises they have made before the election. It is said promises are made to be broken; but for how long we have to linger on and tolerate? When will we be able to quench our thirst for an answer to our disconcerted plight?
If Democracy is about election and election is about participation then Manipur has achieved much. In Manipur, in the first general election to the Lok Sabha in 1952, there were 2, 98,553 electorates, of which 1, 47,864 and 1, 50,689 were men and women electorates respectively. The number of contesting candidates was 14. There were 383 polling stations. The percentage of total polled was 51.24. In the 13th Lok Sabha election in 1999, there were 13, 72,339 electorates, of which 6, 72,650 were men and 6, 99,689 were women. The number of contesting candidates was 18. There were 2001 polling stations. 65.67% of total votes were polled. The highest and lowest numbers of contesting candidates were recorded in the11th and 4th Lok Sabha with 28 and 10 candidates respectively. The 8th Lok Sabha recorded the highest percentage of votes polled with 85.79% while the 5th Lok Sabha recorded the lowest with 48.86%.
The general observation that we can infer from the last thirteen general elections in Manipur is that in all of them except in the 6th and 8th Lok Sabha elections, women electorates outnumbered men; the average number of contesting candidates is 14; and the average votes polled is 65.54% which is comparatively high. This high political participation may suggest that electorates of Manipur are highly politically socialized. But this hypothesis proves to be null. One supports a candidate who can be of some benefits in terms of bribing and bargaining for a job, loan, tenders, etc. A note, which depicts Gandhi, can easily buy a person's vote. He is happy with it. Another person is also happy with that. The manifest function is just to garner as much votes in exchange of Gandhis. But are we really conscious of its latent function? The past and present catastrophic political system is a vivid evidence for it. The representatives deliberately use their power and positions to realize their own interests ignoring the interest of the common people. They also don't have the sense of accountability. This has been going on for the last 52 years.
It would be important to locate here that there is a scheme called the Member of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme (MPLADS). It was announced in the Parliament on 23 December 1993 to take up development works of capital nature in their respective constituencies. Under the scheme, each Member of Parliament may suggest to the Head of the District, works to the time of Rs. 2 crore per year to be taken up in his/her constituency. Elected members of Rajya Sabha may select works for implementation anywhere in the State from which they are elected. For Manipur, the fund released by Government of India under the scheme was Rs. 4, 215 Lakh, cost of works sanctioned by the respective District Head was Rs. 4, 146.2 Lakh and the expenditure incurred up to 31 March 2003 towards the implementation of works recommended by MPs of Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha was Rs. 3, 628.7 Lakh. The percentage of utilization over release was 86.1%. Do we know where all this money has been utilized? We don't know where this money has been utilized. Don't we have the right to information? Yes we have the right to information. Do we ever try to find out the information? No, we never try to find out the information. This clearly shows our lack of responsibility and vigilance. We have the attitude that our task is done once the election is over. Our primary responsibility, on the contrary, begins only after the election is completed.
Election in Manipur has become a ritualistic act rather than a meaningful one. The political culture in Manipur is really disheartening. There is nothing in it we can learn, share and transmit to our future generation. Political system is a subsystem of society. There is a close link between polity and society. Election signifies the collective representation of the people. There is a need to realize and ignite our collective political consciousness. The pace of political evolution needs to be speeded up. What is really important for all of us is not a mere participation in elections but participation with responsibility. A strong pressure group is the need of the hour. The mother of all the malaise lies in the fact that we live to vote. This cliché has to be wiped out completely from the psyche of the people. The time has come that we vote to live an unwavering socio-economic, political and cultural life.