Restore faith

Proxy dhama-dham!’ was a lead news item in The Morung Express, a day after Nagaland went to poll for the 13th Nagaland Legislative Assembly on February 27, 2018. When the state voted again for the lone parliamentary seat and a bye election a year and some days after, on April 11, the headline reads, ‘Contrary to high polling percentage.’ Other dailies in the state carried more or less similar news item highlighting the issue.

As the voting part of the electoral process is done and dealt with, the verdict is clear; the struggle for clean elections in Nagaland is simply a Brobdingnagian task in Nagaland as argued last week.

The final figure according to the Chief Electoral Officer were 83.12% and 84.35% voter for the Lok Sabha and bye election respectively, but similar reports by various media outlets cast doubts on the actual turnout on the ground. The polling according to the authority concerned was conducted in a “peaceful manner” without any “discrepancies or untoward incident.”

By rules, the Indian electoral system is supposed to be stringent and rigorous vetting processes are to be followed officially. Even the voters are supposedly marked with ‘indelible ink’ to warrant the maxim of ‘one person, one vote.’ Unofficially, however, many other dynamics seem to be in operation, often nullifying the lofty intention.

For instance, Presiding Officers (PO), with magisterial powers, Booth Level Officers and a host of polling officers as well as election observers and security personnel, among others, are involved in the process. It is augmented by several awareness campaigns, Model Code of Conduct (MCC) and other technological initiatives.

Granted, the electoral exercise is not an easy task and the enormity of the task at hand is also a reason behind any failures.

However, the relatively high figure and reported mismatch with ground realities put to dock the quality of representative democracy in Nagaland and exacerbates the declining levels of public trust in politics and public institutions.

Last week, The Morung Express asked the readers, “Has the Election Commission of India been able to curb election malpractices in Nagaland? an overwhelming 70% responded otherwise; though each stakeholder was seen as contributing to the state of affairs.

For a representative democracy such as India, it is crucial that the level of trust on the Election commission (EC), the single most important institution for electoral process, must be unanimous and beyond misgiving. It should also be seen as acting decisively, without casting any aspersion on the sanctity of their actions against those vitiating the laid down electoral laws and regulations; thriving with inherent perception of being neutral, transparent and high level of integrity.

Unfortunately, the recent action of the ECI relating to recent concluded election has not helped its cause much. The case is point is the ‘video’ which went viral on social media on April 11 involving Nagaland Deputy Chief Minister, causing uproars among the oppositions and common citizens alike. It “demoralised the law-abiding citizens,” an opposition party alleged.

On its part, the returning officer did not “recommend” any action saying the allegation could not be “substantiated by any documentary evidence/proof.” For the sake of transparency and restoring ‘faith’ in the electoral process, the concerned authorities must have at least ordered an action to ascertain the veracity the viral clip to ‘dig out the truth’. This was demanded from many quarters, including the Dy CM himself.

The office must not be seen as remaining stoic against perceived malpractices and perpetuating existing cynicism, but restoring faith in the system.