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Vote for change is the theme in Manipur's assembly polls

Last updated on: January 27, 2012 19:42 IST

Vote for change is the theme for Manipur assembly polls

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Chitra Ahanthem in Imphal

Manipur's 10th assembly elections have brought about some interesting features in the state. While strict guidelines on poll-related expenses by the Election Commission have resulted in drastic changes in election related processes in the state, the reactions of various groups this time have been a mix of the familiar and new, reports Chitra Ahanthem from Imphal.

The assembly elections in 2007 in the state saw different armed militant groups "warning" certain parties and their candidates, a scenario that remains unchanged for the 10th assembly elections this year.

Searching for any Congress banners or party flags in the hill districts is definitely tough, with some people saying that though they would want to vote for the party, the diktats mean that they vote for the candidates or parties they are asked to support.

An armed group, which calls itself the National Socialist Council of Nagaland, has passed a diktat banning the Congress and its candidates in the hill districts of Manipur.

In the valley areas, the Co-ordinating Committee of seven major underground groups -- Kangleipak Communist Party; Kanglei Yawol Kanba Lup; People's Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak, People's Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak (Progressive); Revolutionary People's Front; United National Liberation Front, and United Peoples' Party of Kangleipak -- has imposed several restrictions on the party, including banning the public from supporting it.

It also sent out a list of Congress workers and supporters who would be targetted, resulting in a series of bombs, hand grenades and improvised explosive devices being left at various places.

Suspected CorCom activists lobbed grenades at the residence of the speaker of the outgoing state assembly on January 22, leaving one dead and four injured. In various other incidents, Congress workers have been abducted or fired upon.

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Image: A banner of the Vote for Change campaign in Manipur
Photographs: Kok Sam Lai

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'Elect only responsible and competent candidates'

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Yet, the emergence of independent voices is what stands out this time. The Senior Citizens For Society, a group of imminent retired citizens, makes the most striking note.

They made their first appeal for free and fair elections starting from the previous assembly elections. This time, too, they sent out statements calling for people to elect only responsible and competent candidates.

"Democracy will never be the government of the people, and the wishes of people will remain a distant dream as long are electoral malpractices are allowed to happen," says N Binoy, president, Senior Citizens for Society.

Sadananda, a retired college principal and a well respected intellectual who is also the secretary of the body, adds, "We are not a political group, and we are not pitching for any party. We are only looking from the perspective of senior citizens who must caution where the younger generation is heading."

The youth, meanwhile, mostly stay outside the state, spread across various states and even abroad.

While there is no specific data on the number of Manipuris studying or working outside the state, it is very common for most households to have empty beds and empty rooms left behind by young family members who have left the state because of the law and order situation, the high corruption levels and the lack of employment opportunities as per merit.

However, the opening up of various interactive websites devoted to Manipur and its issues along with the emergence of discussions on social networking sites seems to have brought in the beginning of attempts to engage with prevailing conditions in the state.

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Image: A public rally organised by People's Campaign for Election 2012 in Imphal
Photographs: Chitra Ahanthem

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'The only way ahead for us now is to vote sensibly'

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"Stop shouting from outside. Get inside," says Hilcham Sinam, who along with six other friends based in Bengaluru gave up their cushy jobs in the IT and engineering sectors and came back to Manipur.

Hilcham and his friends formed Kok Sam Lai, an IT and marketing solutions company, to assist fledgeling businesses in the state and eventually help generate employment for others.

Kok Sam Lai's event management wing eventually organised a first of its kind venture in November 2011, much before the poll dates were announced: a rock concert featuring social messages on responsible voting.

The organisers managed to get various public figures on video during the concert, asking people to do away with the practice of letting votes go for sale.

Tej, another member of the group says, "We cannot continue blaming the government or the 'system' for everything that goes wrong here. After all, we are the ones who chose this government. The only way ahead for us now is to vote sensibly."

The 'Vote for Change' campaign was meant to include marathon runs in every district of the state, but the plans were dropped because of lack of financial resources. The team ironically finds their theme being used by every political party in the state.

"Now every other party is using our slogan: Vote for this party. Vote for change," says Hilcham ruefully.

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Image: A public hoarding in Manipur asking people to assess their franchise
Photographs: Chitra Ahanthem

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'Manipuris are thinking individuals'

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Another campaign that brings together Manipuris from outside the state and those living within is the 'People's Campaign for Assembly Election 2012: Deciding Our Destiny', which started off on Facebook and flagged off debates and discussions on the situation in Manipur.

Led by respected intellectuals, academics, activists and other professionals living in Manipur, elsewhere in India and abroad, it grew on to develop a plan of action besides formulating key issues being faced in the state.

According to Angomcha Bimol Akoijam, chairperson of the campaign, "We are in for the long haul and are not going to be limited to one-time activities or just raising our voice for this particular election alone. Once the representatives of the 60 assembly seats are elected, we are going to engage them in public debates over key issues that confront Manipur."

The PCAE's issues for public discussion include the heavy militarisation in the state and the imposition of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act that gives total immunity to the armed forces and issues of governance in the state that has less than three hours of electricity every day, and lack of tap water besides others.

"Our aim is that by the time the 11th state assembly takes place, the candidates should realise that Manipuris are thinking individuals who will no longer be taken for granted," adds Bimol.

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Image: Activists of a peoples' rights group in Imphal with their banner
Photographs: Chitra Ahanthem

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'A beginning is always necessary'

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Banners exhorting the people to have a serious rethink of the implications of choosing the wrong candidates through wrong means were put across strategic areas of Imphal, and when there was a call for reaching out to more people, the Facebook community group page pooled in money to organise a public rally in Imphal.

Financial support starting from Rs 100 and above was sent in from various places and an online document was made available to show transparency over expenses.

Raju Athokpam, a software engineer who has been living in New Delhi for over 12 years, feels, "The online campaigns on the assembly elections are enlightening, but their reach is limited. It remains out of bounds of the common people. The distressing economic condition of the common man makes them go for cash-for-vote basis." Raju is quick to add, "But a beginning is always necessary."

However, many of the concerned voices will not be able to register their votes since postal ballot is open only to security personnel and people on election duty.

The popular refrain among political observers and common voices is that money would play an integral part in the election process in Manipur, notwithstanding the tough monitoring by the Election Council.

A few pragmatic voices have called for a "take all the money that is offered to you but vote for the candidate who will work for the people" stand.


Image: A security man at an election meeting in Manipur
Photographs: Chitra Ahanthem

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