Consequent upon the massive flouting of protocols

SK Singh *

 Voters at the by-election at Wangoi Constituency, Manipur :: 7th November 2020
Voters at the by-election at Wangoi Constituency on 7th November 2020 :: Pix - Lamdamba Oinam

This by-election in four constituencies on 7 November is most remarkable among the several election exercises in the state. It's not so much about any special feature introduced or any fresh nicety in the accomplishments of the voting process.

In the realm of 'specialty', in election process, more specifically, voting process, the one that stands out heads and shoulders above the rest, can be the one in Mizoram in the last general elections.

The CEC then was on records those days to proclaim that Mizoram was the lone state in the country urging the ECI to scale down the expenditure ceiling for general elections from Rs 10 lakh from 20 lakh. The ECI had been formally requested by the Mizoram government, according to the CEC. What an accomplishment, what a miraculous admission, can I claim?

The stated reason: the candidates in this tiny hill state do not have much to spend on during elections; there are no mass elaborate campaign, no bribing, no feasting with those additives like wine and accompanying luxuries, not even tea nor much of publicity expenditure.

Election Observers classed that election process most boring elaborating that there had been no complaints of any sort, no clash of any class, security persons on duty passed hours lazily in the absence of any disorderly behavior of the voters.

Voters old and young, men and women fell into a kind of orderliness. Clearly it was unique, certainly a class by itself on the face of the multitude of problems of all kinds in elections in other states and UTs.

The just concluded by-elections in four constituencies in the state too are too unique but not in the category of the Mizoram experience, nowhere close to the Mizoram exercise. It was also not in terms of anything new facet incarnated by this state or depicted by the voters or even the CSOs, in the realm of novelty or nicety, something other states can be jealous of.

The voting percentage is huge, rather exceedingly huge in all the four constituencies hovering above 92%. This is by itself most unbelievable. Well, the organizers, several of them, could be acclaimed to have done well to the limit of being impossible.

If past records are kept in mind, the voting rate was nowhere over 70%, except of course, hill areas where the story is totally different. In the same election exercise in Bihar as in Manipur, the voting pc was a mere 58%, a little higher than last election. Is not this Manipur election exceptionally notable?

This time, the lone hill constituency Saitu recorded the least at 91.59% with valley constituencies scoring over 92 pluses, the highest in Lilong at 93.3%, the overall voting pc being 92.54. At the expense of repetition, traditionally hill constituencies are known for high voting pc attributed to 'proxy voting' a common place phenomenon.

In the valley, such instances are few and far between, ultimately resulting to lower pc of voting. This time around, the situations are otherwise. Reasons couldn't be far to seek. The huge turnout in Manipur particularly when the scare of picking the COVID-19 virus, runs high, such unprecedented turnout reaching above 90% could be a fertile situation for the pandemic to strike. But that did happen on the ground and the scare for the virus cannot be ruled out.

Keeping all the contingencies in view, the ECI issued special precautionary guidelines for this by-poll. It in particular, asked for thermal screening before entering the booth and maintaining physical distance of 6 feet between voters as they join the line.

In addition, at the exit of each polling booth, hand sanitizer should be invariably used by each voter. Reports emanating from polling stations however paint a gloomy picture, sanitizer was hardly used and 'social distancing' totally ignored, nor insisted upon religiously by the security personal or the voluntary organizations on role.

Masks are OK, the other equally essential ingredient 'spacing', is thrown to the winds and everybody was in a happy frame of mind discarding SOP issued by the authorities. This stated scenario can be scary for sure, given the contiguous nature of the pandemic.

The state had a high above 400 fresh cases in 24 hours just a week earlier. Now it has tapered down to 182 in a day, by 5 PM of Monday, 9 November, a fall from earlier days with all above 200 to 250. The virus had however caught hold of more; by the evening of 8 Nov, positive cases had crossed 20,000.

The more worrying state is the fact that of the 17,548 +ve cases among the general public, 14,820 have no travel history. And this is a huge 85%. In other words, around 85 persons for every 100 infected, are locally transmitted; when and where, nobody knows for sure. It's just a reality this day.

It only implies that community transmission has already set in the state. And given the series of flouting of standard protocols as was demonstrated during the last by-elections, in less than a week's time from now, by around, 16 November more alarming days are lying in wait. The day falls on the most fascinating, once in a year festivity of the Ningols of the state, the Ningol Chakouba day.

Adding to the concern, recall how market places are invaded by people all around for shopping on the occasion of this festivity. There is absolutely no concern for spacing or distancing among the shoppers.

So too, is the position in the few ATMs that function and of course the banks. People crowd, jostle for getting closure to the booth/desk with the least concern for the '3-ft-at-the-least' prescription if not 6-ft. Nowhere, it is; nor can one expect in the coming one week.

It is now for the law enforcing authorities to strike. Hefty penalty for flouting norms should be the only remedy left. Yes, it should be in place or else, the 2nd or 3rd phase of infection would be reaching us in another fortnight at the latest. By then things would be too late to control. Public left to themselves would never learn; only coercive measures are the remedy.

* SK Singh wrote this article for
The writer can be contacted at kunjabiharis(AT)rediffmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on November 11 2020.

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