Vote 'diktat' threat to Naga democracy

Kohima, Jan. 23: Diktats backed by muscle and gun power have, of late, stripped people in Nagaland, especially in the rural areas, of the freedom to vote and elect the candidates of their choice.

The government as well as election authorities have failed to check this unhealthy trend, which is threatening the very roots on which a democracy like India stands. And with the Assembly polls just round the corner, it is being practised rampantly all over the state again.

Different quarters, including village heads and groups, have started issuing diktats in support of particular candidates, warning those who dare to defy with dire consequences.

There have been instances when villages, while supporting for particular candidates, had barred the opponents from campaigning in these areas; village heads, council members and elders decided whom to vote for on behalf of entire villages and anyone defying their diktats were threatened with expulsion, and this was even carried out in some cases.

There were also reports of village chiefs and heads collecting money from candidates in lieu of votes of the entire village and in some cases, the headmen alone voted on everyone's behalf, denying the people their right to franchise.

The good news this time is that some rebel groups have decided not to get involved in the February 23 elections, though their sincerity is not above doubt.

The story is similar in urban areas, where muscle and gun power is used for proxy voting and booth capturing.

The election authorities here, however, seem "unaware" of these glaring malpractices.

For instance, in some villages where the heads dominate the scene and their family members rule village councils, bogus voter lists are quite common. Even this time, some villages had more "voters" than the official census population.

Though the matter was brought to the notice of the election department, no action has been forthcoming.

While most people tend to remain silent about the issue, the Nagaland Baptist Church Council (NBCC) has formed a clean election campaign committee, to try and "clean up" the political mess.

Convener of the committee, Hovithal N. Sothu, said election was being given a spiritual touch, as it was the epicentre that shaped most of the forces and arrangements of Naga political, economic and social life. He said the devastating tentacles of state elections had spread to all aspects of life of individuals, families, villages, churches, tribes, traditional and government institutions. "It is the biggest force that is eroding the moral foundation as well as the future of the Naga people."

NBCC general secretary Rev. L. Anjo Keikung said the electoral code of conduct laid down by the Election Commission itself was good enough to conduct a clean and fair election but it was not working in the state.

The church has also taken strong exception to communities and groups taking decisions to support candidates that deny individuals their right to choose their own candidates. "This denies individuals their right to exercise their freedom of choice, which is a violation of our God-given rights," it said, asking rebels not to get involved with the elections, as their involvement annoyed people.

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