Election malpractices in Nagaland
What is the stand of the Church and Naga Nationalists?
Dr. K Hoshi
[dropcap]E[/dropcap]lection has become the most important event in Naga life because election gives the best opportunity way to make easy money. There are no social issues during elections. Development issues are only promises. After the election, everybody is for himself and herself in seeking benefit. Money becomes the language and religion during election. Money becomes the rule of law for the next five years. Money decides everything; power, leaders and what not?
What are the election evils in Nagaland? All the social problems today are linked to election evils in one way or other. Election malpractice has become the root cause of all evils in our society. It has affected us politically, socially, economically and spiritually. Election malpractices have led the Nagas to live with the maxims; “You get the leaders you deserve”; and “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”.Briefly, election malpractices include;
1. Erroneous electoral roll enumeration: There are double/multiple enumerations of the same person in different polling stations. Almost all the villagers permanently settled in towns have their names in their respective villages. That includes the government employees, business people, daily wage earners and even the church leaders. Many national workers have their names enumerated in India’s electoral roll. Dead people are also enumerated. Underage enumeration will account for not less that 25% of the total electorates. The sum total of these fictitious enumeration accounts for about one third of the total electorates. This is the chunk of electorates that constitute the proxy votes on polling day. Proxy voting is the most important factor in high percentage voter turnout in Nagaland. While the national average turnout percentage is anywhere between 55 – 65 %; in Nagaland, 90 – 95% has been the normal average. Who are the enumerators? Largely, our most respected government teachers of course.
2. Money power: The right to vote has become a purchasable commodity. The common man falls victim to his own ‘wants’ and sell out his right and power to vote in elections. The following incident proved that votes are purchasable commodity. After the declaration of February 2013 State general election result, the winner candidate (NPF) of 19th Phek A/C in his thanksgiving ceremony in the heart of Phek town declared, in presence of Chakhesang Baptist Church Council (CBCC) President and Executive Secretary, that he would not accept any members from other political parties for the next four years but purchase them in the fifth (election) year if deemed needed. Thanks to today’s hi-tech world, live video recording stands as the living proof.
3. Village councils took undemocratic, anti-election law decisions to support one candidate. Village en-block votes were traded for development promises that mostly went unfulfilled. It was said that Nagas had the purest form of democracy. But the village councils have turn it into mobocracy in Nagaland’s elections. It is also said that in democracy, real power rests in the hands of the common people. But the village councils have seized the common man’s right by imposing village resolutions. CBCC in its clean election campaign guidelines said it opposed such village council resolution. My village had adopted such a resolution in favor of NPF candidate in the last two State general elections. In February 2013 election, the CBCC organized a dedicatory prayer function for all the candidates at Pfutsero where it read out its guidelines. As a candidate, I had asked CBCC to make its stand clear on my village’s resolution but my question was ignored for reasons best known to them. Village resolution on en-block voting for one candidate was the main cause of booth capture in many villages. This is called muscle power.
4. Booth Level Officers (BLOs) hand-over voter slips in bulk to unauthorized people or village councils that had resolved to vote for one candidate. They are legally and constitutionally obligated to handover voter slips to the electorates personally. With EPIC in force, voter identification is no longer a problem. But many BLOs just didn’t bother. This is another cause for proxy voting/voter impersonation.
5. Family head or village head voting has become the common practice in Nagaland’s elections. It was not unusual to find your vote being cast by someone if you fail to reach the polling booth early. Multiple voting by one electorate was allowed by POs as long as the polling agents did not object to it. Multiple voting did not spare even prominent public leaders and church leaders. In 19th Phek A/C, one elderly deacon could cast ten proxy votes while one missionary board member could cast nine proxy votes. In another constituency, one former President of a public organization was seeing casting five times. In many cases, polling agents of minority were intimidated by the majority. So, the process went on and on. In other cases, Presiding Officers (PO) were either intimidated for fair play or yield under pressure. So, they prefer compromised practice to application of election law. It was also not uncommon to find partisan POs for reasons not far to seek. At the end of the day, it was normal practice to allow proxy votes. It was the most acceptable compromise for incident-free election. No PO wants trouble in his booth. For this reason, many POs prefer family head voting or village head voting so as to finish the voting process as early as possible. His objective was to complete the voting process incident-free no matter in what manner voting took place; wind-up and take to his heels the moment the clock strike four o’clock. The end-result was that, it was reported that in 48 polling booths, more than 100% cast took place in the recently concluded Lok Sabha election. It happened in Manipur State too. The only difference was that, while Manipur Govt. promptly suspended the PO and called for re-poll; in Nagaland no action has been initiated so far either by the State Govt. or Election Commission of India. This is called Nagaland; the holy land of the east.
6. Liquor and money flowed freely during elections. Our youths’ morality hits the bottom under the influence of money and liquor.
7. On top of all these, EVM tampering has become a great suspect.
All these malpractices amounted to cheating and fraud. It is against the principle of the Christian faith and practice.
What is the stand of the Church on election malpractices in over 90% Christian State of Nagaland? The church must make its stand clear on election evils. A few years back when one Hon’ble High Court had legalized gay sex, the NBCC, instead of giving a one line stand, gave a lengthy sermon explaining its stand on gay sex. This is not the kind of answer the people want. It was expected to be a straight ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to unnatural sex. The right thinking Nagas want a straight answer as to whether election evils and crimes should be treated a sin as does with adultery, rape, killing, robbery, etc. Or, does the church treat cheating and fraud in election no sin or lesser sin? Till date, other than what it called clear election campaign through public education, the church has not taken any serious step to check these election evils. Is it not a sin to double enumerate your name? Is impersonation, proxy voting not a sin? They are crimes in the eyes of election law. Is breaking the law not a sin? If gay sex and election malpractices are permissible on earth; will they be permitted in Heaven? While in other parts of the country, Christians had the courage to make their stand clear on communal politics; Naga Christians chose to either remain silent or imbibed communal politics for fear of being denied the State’s support to the church. There was a time in seventies when the church’s writ was more powerful than the State’s laws. But today, it is just the reverse and all for money.
Some preachers make no secret of their activities during election. But after the election these very people take the stage and give bombastic sermons. It is because of these indiscrete church leaders that today, the church in Nagaland faces the danger of division on political lines. The church is no longer a place to receive comfort for the troubled souls. It has become a den for anger and hatred for the unchristian actions of some church leaders during elections. Has the church conducted its soul searching, if not investigation, on its own leaders involved in election malpractices? Unless the church disciplines its own field workers first, how can it discipline its other members?
Living true to its theme; “Nagaland for Christ”, there’s nothing in Nagaland that is not flavored with Christian rituals. Needless to say election in Nagaland is also deeply associated with prayer, fasting and prophesying. Election prophets galore, predicting either glory or doom for the candidates. The fates of the candidates were pre-decided by those pollsters. Prayer groups fast and pray for one candidate. Some church leaders were biased even in their prayers for the candidates. As a candidate, I have faced the hurt if not the humiliation. The church leaders have failed to speak the truth. Going by the number of Theological Colleges in Nagaland and even more theological students studying outside the state, there is no denying the fact that we have no dearth of professional theologians. But do we have spiritually inspiring life-changing theologians? The result is that, our present Naga society has become strongly theocratic in outlook but demonic in act.
Election related evil is the main cause of all social problems in Nagaland. Therefore, change in Nagaland has to start with electoral reforms. Almost everything that the Nagas had practiced in the elections were unchristian. This shows that the church has a major role to play in electoral reforms in Nagaland. It has to start right from erroneous enumeration of electoral roll. Will the church have the patience to look through the electoral rolls of Nagaland? What will the church say to those electorates having names in double or multiple places? Will it just dismiss as an administrative error? What is the message of the church to the enumerators who are mostly our respectable teachers? Is the church ready to make single enumeration as the baptismal pledge?
We all know that the polling officials are always the government employees. Proxy voting could never take place without the active participation of the presiding officers; whether voluntarily or under duress. How many government employees had the church leaders counseled in its clean election campaign? Tragedy is that, many church leaders have the authority to accept new members or remove its baptized members for wrong doing. But almost equal number of them are not even worthy to give counseling to the members. My due apology to all committed church leaders who are desperate minorities.
Has the Church the courage to admonish the political leaders for election malpractices? Has the church the sight to see wrong from right? Should the church be mere educator and not active participator in the exercise to correct election malpractices? The church cannot simply look away from those problems because, if something is wrong in the society, more things must be wrong in the church. The church has a moral and spiritual responsibility to correct the wrong when it knows or is made known of what the problem is. After all, Christianity was the foundation of change in Naga life. It transformed the Nagas from savage head-hunting to civilization and respect for humanity. Christianity gave a new social order to the Nagas. The church should make efforts that it may also give new political order. There can be no meaningful and significant change in Nagaland without electoral reforms. Unless the Nagas can do away with election related evils, no exercise for change will be sustainable.
What is the stand of the Naga nationalists (on election malpractices) who claim to be fighting for Naga sovereignty? In May 1951, 99.9% of the Nagas opted for sovereignty in the plebiscite exercise. In 1952, the Nagas of Naga Hills district of Assam had totally boycotted India’s first parliamentary election. Today, Nagaland State recorded over 90% turnout in almost all the elections held in recent years. Is this not an indication that over 90% are against independence? Which of the Naga political groups could claim that they had not involved themselves in Indian sponsored elections? With or without sanction of the national governments, all groups had involved in State sponsored elections directly or indirectly. Just because you didn’t cast your vote, you are not absolved from national guilt. What are you going to tell to the world and India? The Govt. of India has every right to claim that those fighting for sovereignty constitute barely 10% of the population. Will the national governments please check the electoral roll of the State and see how many of their cadres and officers have their names enrolled? You may be able to fool the gullible Nagas but you can’t fool India. After the biometric citizenship exercise, the Nagas will lose all legal rights to claim as a separate people. We will become complete Indians. No nation will listen to us again. What is your message to the Naga public on election malpractices?
Change is the ‘catch word’ and ‘slogan’ everywhere in the world today. People the world over wants change. People are demanding change of government, change in political leadership, change in economic policies, change in bureaucratic set up and change even in social and religious establishments. The yearning for change is an indication that something is wrong in the order; be it political, social, economic or religion. It is from these disorders that people want transformation. People want new world order. Will the Nagas be an exception in this? Change is not a one-time instant solution. It is a process of becoming different in a span of time. As a Christian State, the church should take the first step for electoral reformation. The national workers should either refrain from arm-twisting the elections or join the mainstream.
(The views shared in this article are entirely the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of the