Concerned authorities must walk the talk
The recent elections to the 14th Nagaland Legislative Assembly (NLA) have exposed several malpractices that continue to undermine the fundamental democratic principle of “one person, one vote.” While the Election Commission and other authorities have touted the high turnout of over 86% as a sign of successful conduct of the election, rampant proxy voting, use of muscle and money power, en bloc voting, and pre-poll and post-poll violence have tainted the process. It is the responsibility of the Election Commission and other authorities to address these issues and ensure a fair and free election.
At the foundational level, there are significant bogus entries in the electoral roll, and cleaning up malpractices starts by rectifying them. However, political reasons and other dynamics make correct electoral enumeration a huge task. The concerned authorities must take decisive action to correct these anomalies and ensure that the electoral roll is accurate and free from any discrepancies.
The high turnout of voters in Nagaland raises the question of whether all those who exercise their franchise actually cast their votes in their names. Hence, the menace of proxy voting needs immediate attention. This practice is made possible due to lax verification of identity and security at the ground level during Election Day. Often, just a voter’s slip is enough to gain entry to the polling booth, making it easy for people to cast their vote multiple times. The concerned authorities must take strict measures to ensure that only eligible voters cast their votes and that their identity is verified properly. During the recent election, even the vote of the editor of a daily newspaper in Nagaland was already cast when she went to vote, highlighting the magnitude of the problem.
Another issue is the practice of declaring a “consensus” candidate by village councils, citizen forums, colonies, clans, and other entities. This practice has been designated as undemocratic by the Election Commission and must be stopped. The Election Commission must pave the way for candidates to contest elections in their own constituencies and for voters to vote in their own volition. For instance, interventions by the Gauhati High Court Kohima Bench after the filing of writ petitions have resulted in some candidates being able to contest elections in their own constituencies in the recently concluded election. Likewise, a mechanism must be in place to check such malpractice at least two years before any upcoming election, as these declarations are usually occur way ahead of an impending election.
The use of money by candidates and poll agents to “buy votes” is another issue that needs to be addressed. One way to do this is by installing mechanism to report such practices with anonymity, increasing penalties and ensuring that the enforcement agencies are adequately empowered to take action against the culprits. The concerned authorities must thoroughly act on complaints to ensure deterrence.
It must be noted here that many best practices, such as the use of technology; indelible ink; CCTV cameras to monitor the polling booths; deployment of electoral, expenditure observers and security personnel etc, are in place to ensure the principle of “one person, one vote.” However, how they are implemented at the ground level is the moot point.
Accordingly, it is imperative that the concerned authorities take necessary measures to check electoral malpractices and uphold the sanctity of the electoral process. Ultimately, the onus lies largely with the concerned authorities to ensure that a transparent, accountable, and democratic electoral process is not just about high voting percentage but also about a fair and free election. The concerned authorities must walk the talk and ensure that the electoral process in Nagaland reflects the true spirit of democracy.
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