Before and during and after and Election, everyone wants to talk, and many do talk. Not all get listened to. In the past, we would hear the majority of people say, ‘Election vorzhie, udzüzei thor,’ meaning ‘Election is coming, how dreary.’ No doubt other people would be amazed that we look at choosing our leaders as a dreary project. They would wonder what was wrong with us.
Attitudes are changing towards elections and changing in a positive sense. We lived through a time when elections were seen to be a thing of the devil and a thing of the enemy, because the national movement made Nagas identify elections with being pan-Indian. Many years have passed since the days of boycotting elections and returning empty ballot boxes to the centre. (Yes, there was such a time in our history as a people). Our people are slowly coming to realise that if we want the change we keep sloganeering for, we have to exercise our votes. Citizens have to utilise their vote for the candidate they think most capable of bringing the change they hope for. The failure of many Americans to come out of their homes, and vote, was said to be one of the reasons why a president they didn’t care for, came to power. Paradoxically elections make us think in terms of solutions. Not the Naga solution. But grass roots solutions that would make elections meaningful and valuable in our land. While one really wishes we could go back to the days of the village panchayat where problems were solved locally, and incomes were self-sufficient, a friend reminds that we have travelled too far to retrace our steps backward.
How sad that elections generate so much hatred between members of opposing candidates. Loss of lives of young men with promising lives ahead of them is irreparable. Must this hostility be so? Is it avoidable? One wonders if it will be possible to normalise elections at home. Not in the sense of normalising vote-buying, but by establishing it as a democratic process where people get a chance to choose their leaders. One way to do that would be to economically empower the common people. One refrain that is repeated rather bluntly by the common man is that he accepts money because if not now, he will never get another chance. It is such a sad reflection of our times that accepting vote money is normalised in this manner. But if people did not need that money, there would be a better chance of clean elections becoming a reality. Vote-buying and selling is the surface of a problem with deeper roots. We lack economic empowerment and this lack becomes the breeding ground of all our troubles. Use the money coming into the state wisely. Invest and introduce projects that will build up each section of society. Focus on projects that can use our background of agriculture. For example, food production as a source of livelihood for rural and semi-urban citizens would be a reliable way of economical empowerment. Women, men and youths could be sponsored to undergo trainings in different fields that do not need an educational degree, only a sharp and interested mind and a willingness to work hard. The person who is industrious at whatever he/she works at for a living, will empower themselves. I emphasise economic empowerment because when people become self-sufficient, things like vote-selling and vote buying will become redundant.
As we remove the lure of money, the bleakness around elections will be removed to a large degree. The economically self-reliant person will not be blinded by a once-in-five-years payment for sale of his vote. What ultimately allows corrupt practices during elections is the vulnerability that poverty creates. Once the vulnerable groups are made less vulnerable, visible changes have to emerge. The vulnerability of poverty is greater than the vulnerability of ignorance. The ignorant can be educated about their rights and the electoral powers invested in them, but if they are still too poor to resist vote money, they will not resist. Fortunately, there are non-government sources that can establish economically empowering projects for the low-income groups. Big churches have a surplus of funds that they could utilise in social upliftment. It might be that if the churches come forward with projects of removing poverty, clean elections could truly become a reality.