The battles of electing 60 MLAs is over but the war of hatred, money-effect, muscle-effect, and gun-effect of pre-poll period continue .
By Sanjenbam Jugeshwor Singh
Much ahead of the just concluded 12th Manipur State Assembly election, intending candidates of various political parties started their election activities just to win or get party tickets amid global pandemic. As election drew closer, election activities intensified with wide-spread violence prior to the announcement of the election schedule and Election Model Code of Conduct came into force. Ahead of the election, the Election Commission of India (ECI) reviewed poll preparedness in Manipur, focusing on the conduct of safe elections earlier in January. In the review meeting, the political parties from Manipur expressed concerns to ECI over pre-poll violence and urged the commission to deploy adequate security forces during the poll process.
Manipur this year witnessed a massive rise in pre-poll violence in several constituencies. Starting from the Heirok Constituency which was under CRPC 144 after a series of pre-poll violence occurred including killing of a college going student to assailing stones between political rivals. Another gruesome pre-poll violence of Heirok AC was reported on 19th February, when the brother of an Ex-MLA, with his gang badly thrashed a worker of his political rival at the latter’s residence at around 8.30pm. Meanwhile, on 19th February several houses and vehicles were demolished, while six persons sustain injuries as pre-poll violence contrives mayhem in Andro AC. The violent incident happened when workers of a political party and party workers of another party swapped blows in two different places under Andro AC.
The incident began around 11.30 pm from Yairipok Tulihal when the candidate of a political party and his 50/60 workers attacked the workers of another political party. They also reportedly fired a gunshot at them. As many as six workers were injured in the spell. The armed men also smashed twelve houses and several other vehicles in the foray. The JD (U) Kshetrigao candidate was also shot at, highlighting the cheapening of human lives.
A National Political party did not refrain from using the SoO groups in Churachandpur and Kangpokpi to influence the voters either with money or gun power. Meanwhile, pre-poll violence ahead of the second phase continued with report of attacks on 30/40 households in Sugunu associated with Congress and CPI and damaged to polling booths and around 12 vehicles. There were reports of voters in Wangjing being thrashed and intimidated that no agent except that of a particular party should be allowed in polling booths. Even Killing of a person and burning down of a house was reported in that AC. The open intimidation by armed ethnic militants groups, forcing members of its ethnic community to vote for one particular political party is a matter of grave concern. Most stakeholders interviewed expressed the possibility of violent incidents continuing even in the post-election period. Apart from the few incidents mentioned above, pre-poll violence were reportedly brewed up at several other constituencies too which were alarming.
High number of candidates with criminal records is another concern. Interestingly, most candidates with criminal backgrounds are documented crorepati. Out of 53 with criminal background, 31 are crorepati (58%). The poll violence seems to be closely linked to muscle power, as constituencies with more than one candidate with muscle and money power have seen more violent incident. Flow of large sums of money, drugs and liquor during the campaign period has been an evident part of this election. Details of seizures made by officials, released by ECI till February 25 revealed shocking fact. A total of Rs 167.83 crore was seized by officials, including drugs ( Rs. 143.47 cr), precious metals ( Rs 12.17cr), cash (Rs 4.17cr) and liquor ( Rs 0,65 cr). Not only are these figures alarming but it also supports the general perception of extensive use of money power during election.
The total values of the seized items so far in this election is already more than 26 times higher than total value seized in 2017 Manipur election, which was Rs 6.42 cr. Even though no vote buying is reported with evidence, the voters are quite certain that it is already taking place widely. The campaign expenditure of almost all candidates is believed to be far exceeding the ceiling of Rs 28 lakh rupee imposed by the ECI. Different parties from the poll-bound state also flagged concerns over the use of money power, illicit liquor, narcotics drugs and intimidation to influence voters, the ECI said in a statement. The question of false information submitted in the affidavit by candidates, which has passed scrutiny, is also a matter of concern.
There were a total of 265 candidates contesting from 60 assembly constituencies, 173 and 92 in Phase-I and II, respectively. Among these candidates, the total number of women candidates is 17, which is almost negligible. This is shocking as it reflects the continuing male dominance in formal politics in the state. Meira paibi even commented that in the period leading to the elections, discussion programmes in the media conducted on various electoral issues hardly had any women panelist. On the issue of media freedom and neutrality, no major incident of undue media restrictions in the pre-election period is reported. However, stakeholders opined that there is a need to have a closer look at the issue, as there is a speculation of growing bond of selected media groups with those in power. To have an environment in which the CSOs effectively perform their role by participating in the electoral process, it is important that officials concerned and stakeholders address the issue of CSOs abstaining from election process despite their active involvement in other socio-political issue. Reports of vandalizing EVMs, Poll rigging, snatching of EVMs, and violence at the polling stations were also reported in many places resulting re-polling.
With hue and cry and chaos the electoral battle of 12th Manipur state Assembly ended with BJP-32, NPP-7, INC-5, NPF-5, JD(U)-6, Ind-3 and KPA-2 when the Pandora Box were opened on 10th March. But the post-poll war still continues. Day after the results of the election to the 12th Manipur Legislative Assembly were declared, post –violence gripped Jiribam district on Friday with outbreak of vandalism and burning of vehicles leaving several people injured. On Friday morning, a group of people who are suspected to be supporters of a party candidate assaulted a frontal organization leader of a national political party and his family members at their house located at Lalpani, Jiribam.Mobile data services had been suspended for five days and district Magistrate had already clamped. A bomb blast at a grocery shop rented by a candidate in recently concluded two-phase elections killed a salesman post-poll violence incident at Churachandpur district. Miscreants attacked the house of a defeated candidate with guns in Andro AC as poll-related violence incidents unabated in Manipur. No causality was reported in the gun attack at the house of lost candidate. Miscreants opened fire several round of guns towards the house, damaging the GI-sheet roof of a front structure of the candidate’s house. Police conducted a spot inquiry after the gun attack, recovered several empty cases.
Arresting workers of en elected representative by police for alleged post-poll violence is also reported. At the same time ,the war of electing leader of the government to be formed and which political party/parties are to be in the government is also still going on. Thus the battles of electing 60 MLAs is over but the war of hatred, money-effect, muscle-effect, and gun-effect of pre-poll period continue .
(Sanjenbam Jugeshwor Singh is Asst. Prof. JCRE Global College, Babupara, Imphal. He can be reached at [email protected])