Voters line up to cast their votes outside a polling station in Ghaspani I Assembly Constituency on February 27. (Morung Photo)
Morung Express News
Dimapur | February 27
Elections in Nagaland have repeatedly been marred by allegations of votes being bought and sold along with proxy voting. Despite calls for ‘Clean Election,’ the cycle of such vote trading seems to have continued even in the present election.
On February 27, as the state went to polls to fill the 60-member Nagaland Legislative Assembly, The Morung Express visited some polling stations at various Assembly Constituencies (AC) to get first-hand accounts of the electoral process.
During the visits, questions related to the church-backed Clean Election Movement were either met with ‘knowing smiles’ or silence. Some even confessed ignorance about the movement and claimed to not know that proxy voting is illegal.
Voting through proxy, needs to be understood contextually. Under electoral law, vote for service voters (eg. Armed Forces) can be made through proxy after due authorisation under guidelines laid down by the ECI.
It is to be noted that proxy voting, in the context of this report, refers to those that are cast outside the purview of the ECI guidelines.
At a polling station in Kukidolong under Ghaspani II AC, a voter, waiting to exercise his franchise with three others, insisted that he was voting with free-will.
According to him, poll agents of different parties approached them with incentives. However, an agent of a particular political party promised development after election, and that is the basis on which they were casting votes. The current election was ‘little cleaner than before,’ he maintained.
In this polling station, out of 460 votes, 300 had been cast by 12:30 PM.
Despite such assertions, there were others in the queue complaining that they have not been able to get even ‘one-round’ of voting done while others were repeating, indicating that proxy voting was happening in the polling station.
An account given by a polling agent also ‘cast’ some doubts.
Till last night, our chance was better, but things changed in the last minute, he rued, listing villages/areas where the party was expected to perform well. “What to do! Even if we spent much, things can change in the eleventh hour,” he reasoned.
‘Delible mark of democracy’
In the ‘festival of democracy,’ the jamboree of proxies was not far behind and the initiation starts early.
In Chümoukedima, a group of ‘first-time’ voters said that they were voting based on ‘capabilities’ of the candidate. However, when asked to pose for a photo with ‘indelible election ink,’ they insisted that they were not ‘marked.’ In the background, a person called out for another round of voting.
Another group of voters, mostly women answered that some of them have voted, while others are waiting; uncomfortably trying to hide their fingers.
“Morning pura marishe, ettoka bhi pa nai’ (Been voting all morning but haven’t received a single rupee), a tipsy man complained to his companion.
‘Kaun laga naam ase najane, hoilibi marishe’ (Don’t know whose name it is but I voted), another man was heard telling his companion.
In the melee, there were polling agents of different parties trying their best to get votes for their candidates.
Further along the queue, The Morung Express also witnessed a man asking an acquaintance to stand in line at a polling station nearby. Nonchalantly, he handed a Rs 500 note, explaining awkwardly: ‘This is not for the purpose.’
By afternoon, one thing was clear - most genuine voters were gone, only proxies lingered.
Meanwhile, in Dimapur III AC, a group of women were seen carrying more than one voter slip outside the polling booth in Purana Bazar, waiting for the opportune time to enter their proxy votes. Another individual was already standing at the front of the queue after already casting his vote while the rest of the people were yet to cast their own ‘genuine’ votes.
Similar scenes were observed in several polling stations in Padumpukhuri and Purana Bazar. At one location, a few people were seen instructing their companions on how to cast proxy votes once inside the polling booth.
At a polling station in Dimapur I AC, a group of 3-4 women were raising complaints that they had been waiting since 8:00 AM and have not been able to cast their votes. However, upon further inquiry, they revealed that most of them had already voted at least twice today.
‘It’s been very slow. At this rate we cannot finish casting the votes we have with us,’ one of them said.
When queried about practicing clean election, she responded: ‘Inika movement tu dhuni manu hi paribo’ (This movement can only be done by the rich). This is our only opportunity to get something from our candidate who we’ll not see again till the next election, she reasoned. Even if we don’t do it, they’ll find someone else to do it, she maintained.
“I have received Rs 7000 today, and still have more to get. Dukan laga stock kinibo (Will buy stock for my shop),” one of her companions commented.
All the women in the group claimed they were not aware that proxy voting is a punishable offence under the Indian Penal Code.
A woman at another polling station in the same AC said that she had cast eight votes— her own and seven on behalf of her sister’s family who are out of station. “I do not take any money for this,” she clarified. The rate for proxies was allegedly between Rs 500 and Rs 1000 per vote here, according to her.
Proxy voting was however not limited to areas in and around Dimapur. A voter from a constituency in Mokokchung revealed that he had entered the polling booth four times. His assigned duty at the particular polling station is over, he added.
While most of the accounts were given by the electorate, polling officials also appear to be complicit. A polling official in Dimapur II AC admitted that at least 50 percent of votes in his polling station were cast by proxies. Out of 190 electors enrolled in the polling station about 160 votes were cast in the particular location.
Similarly, an official from a polling station in Ghaspani II also admitted that out of the 80 percent turnout, a sizeable portion of votes were proxies. There are approximately 700 voters in the polling station.