Another Poll Test

The May 7 Bye-Election for the prestigious 26 Aonglenden Assembly Constituency will be keenly watched across Nagaland for several reasons. The re-entry of former Chief Minister SC Jamir and whether he is able to reassert his political authority not just in the Bye-Election but beyond will be a matter of interest for many. Off-course, it will also be a test for the NPF government especially in the Congress bastion of Mokokchung and the signs of things to come with Assembly Elections not too far away in the horizon. Whether a win or loss for the ruling NPF and Opposition Congress, indeed the outcome will have a bearing not so much on the numbers game but on the political discourse for the next few years ahead of the Assembly Election. However the concern of this column is more to do with the conduct of elections and the question of whether free and fair elections can be held in reality. Several things have changed in the last few years to give us the confidence that things will be different this time round. For instance, election laws have been made more stringent. The guidelines for conducting polls have also been improved upon and we have a more enlightened electorate. Therefore there is every hope that the coming bye-polls will be better managed and conducted. Here we need to appreciate the efforts being put in by the State Election Commission and the Mokokchung District Administration. In fact, we need to encourage a successful model of election to emerge from Mokokchung so that the same can be improved upon and applied in subsequent bigger elections in the State. We need to take heart from the fact that in recent years there has been greater awareness and also effort to curb election malpractices. Recently the Election Commission of India did a fine job in conducting the polls in Tamil Nadu. Crores of Rupees meant for bribing voters were reportedly confiscated by the Commission in the weeks before the election.
In Nagaland too our Church should not remain a mute spectator but should have done more to support the efforts of the Election Commission and the Mokokchung District Administration. Much more still needs to be done to ensure an election system which is free from money and muscle power. Although a new rule of the Election Commission of India states that the upper limit of election expenses to be incurred by a contesting candidate for State Legislative Assembly election in regard to the state of Nagaland should not be more than rupees eight lakhs, the same has not been observed. While having a limit of Rs 8 lakhs as expenditure is a welcome step, nevertheless in practice, no candidate will be able to curb his or her expenditure within this amount. In the long run though, the political parties in the State should rally together in support of such a limit as this will also ease their burden on expenditure and in turn it will have a positive effect in bringing down the corruption levels in the government. It also goes without saying that for rules and reforms to succeed, besides the political parties our Naga public must also do their part as law abiding citizens i.e. respect for the rule of law and as good Christians by being honest, truthful and corrupt free. From the land and the people from where Christianity first emerged among the Nagas, the May 7 Bye-polls for the Aonglenden Assembly Constituency provides the Ao people in particular and the Nagas in general an opportunity to curb malpractices and ensure free, fair and peaceful election.