Sunday, June 23, 2024
North East

In state known for money, muscle power in polls, a youth collective’s call for change

IMPHAL, MARCH 2: Her textbooks may have told her that Indian elections are the “largest festival of democracy”, but Imphal’sLaishramPratimaChanu does not quite agree.
“For years, I have studied about our Constitution’s provisions, about the world’s largest festival of democracy where empowered voters can choose their own candidates”, says Pratima, a student of Political Science at Manipur University. “But in real life, it’s entirely different…at least in our Manipur.”
Elections in Manipur, which is slated to see the second phase of polling on March 5, have long been infamous for the use of money and muscle power to decide the fate of candidates. “Votes are bought, insurgent groups issue diktats and threats, and poor voters have no choice but to listen”, Pratima says.
The 25-year-old’s frustration found an outlet, when recently, she recited her Meiteilon poem, Tung gikhunaigidamak (For the future society) to a packed auditorium in Imphal, at an ‘Ethical Election’ themed event organised by a group of 40-odd youngsters who call themselves the ‘Youth Collective Manipur’ (YCM). She lost no time signing up for it.
While it was formed in August 2021 with the objective of “transforming electoral politics in Manipur”, the YCM has ramped up its activities during the polls, holding awareness programmes and discussions. Apart from students, the YCM has lawyers, entrepreneurs, research scholars and journalists advising it.
“It is time we change the way elections work in Manipur”, says Keisham Donny, 27, a political science graduate and member.
The Collective recently came out with a music video, LuchingbaKhanbaHeitarey, which Donny describes as a “lament on the inability to choose good leaders”. The video starts with a politician delivering a speech to a group of people in blindfolds, as, he says, “that is the condition of voters in Manipur”. It however ends on a positive note, with the people, influenced by a conscious voter, choosing to remove their blindfolds before they head to vote.
A month ahead of the polls, the YCM had constituted a panel to monitor its processes. In its first report issued last week, Donny says, the panel noted there had been at least 46 incidents of poll-related violence till then, including 4 killings, 10 blasts, and 15 gun violence incidents. “Constituencies with more than one candidate with muscle and money power saw more violent incidents”, the report said.
A YCM member and history student, MutumTennison, 22, says that even publishing such a report in Manipur was a significant development. “Our State has a strong civil society and human rights movement. But when it comes to elections, everyone stays away”, he says.
Late last year, the YCM had released a “People’s Manifesto”, highlighting the State’s experience of “rampant unemployment, corruption, constant erosion of civil liberties and heavy-handed State repression”.
Tennison concedes the YCM may not be able to fix such “structural problems” overnight. “But if we keep at it, clean elections might be a reality in Manipur by our next generation.”
(Courtesy: IE)