When the poll bugle blows, the litmus test for the clean election begins. Predictably, in the run-up and announcement to the electoral process in Nagaland, there has had been perceptible pro-activeness of politicians, party workers and the common people accompanied by political re-alignment.
While parliamentary elections have always been a lowly affair in the state; however, the concurrent bye-election to a ‘prestigious’ assembly constituency makes the current electoral process a very interesting affair – both politically and academically. Momentarily, the relatively silent ‘clean election’ campaign this time around also shows how a parliamentary election is viewed in Nagaland.
Nevertheless, the State electoral machine has been constant, in creating awareness as well as adopting various measures to ‘cleanse’ the election. At the top of these initiatives is the Election Commission of India’s ‘Model Code of Conduct’ (MCC) – a set of guidelines for the conduct of political parties and candidates during elections. A general guide on how electioneering is it ought to be and what each stakeholder are supposed to do. It was implemented with the consent of all political parties.
Two guidelines deserve mentions here. “No party or candidate shall include in any activity which may aggravate existing differences or create mutual hatred or cause tension between different castes and communities, religious or linguistic.”
Secondly, the ECI also directs all parties and candidates, among others, to avoid scrupulously all activities which are “corrupt practices” and offences under the election law, such as bribing of voters, intimidation of voters, impersonation of voters, canvassing within 100 meters of polling stations and so on.
Both perfectly valid and comprehensive on paper.
However, when it comes to how the voters including party workers behave during elections and how their political masters lead them, there appears to be gross violations.
This is a reality check and shows how the quest for clean election is a Brobdingnagian task in Nagaland.
All the stakeholders seem not to be taking it seriously and making a mockery of their mandate – unfortunately a common phenomenon. For instance, three candidates contesting the Lok Sabha election has already been served ‘show cause’ notice for alleged violations of the MCC. Social media has also become a big platform to propagate vested interests.
In Nagaland, elections have a distinct flavour, thus offer bigger challenges. Apart from the personal configuration, tribal, clan and village dynamics among others play a huge part. It affects each level of the electoral politics, having distinct intricacies and complexities.
Away from the official mechanism, the ‘signing of pledges’ or for that matter, its misuse and manipulation, is considered one of the biggest stumbling block and the litmus test for any clean election campaign.
Consequently, the laid down MCC are often flouted, even without respective ‘violators’ aware of the transgression. Again two instances can be cited here.
The recent directive by the Additional Deputy Commissioner and Returning Officer of a certain block in Nagaland to village councils to refrain from electioneering under its jurisdiction vividly depicts the ground reality in the state.
The other pertains to the actions of government employees. Each government employee is bounded by respective service rules. Among others, maintenance of impartiality and integrity at all times, independence discharge of duties, and political neutrality are the core principles. However due to the complex nature of politics in Nagaland, often these concerns are often put on the backburner.
The mission for clean elections, thus, appears to be a myth and an insurmountable task in the state. But its successes will also decide whether the society can overcome one biggest challenge to democratic society – the use of force and lure of money and power. The quest should continue.