Running for the 17th Lok Sabha polls: The candidate

Yangsorang Rongreisek *

Forty-two years ago at 23 in 1977, I was fond of talking about Lok Sabha Polls. My fellow students from Hill Districts of Manipur and I suggested for nomination of one from among us for election to the 6th Lok Sabha which ran from 23 March, 1977. It could not be materialised. Yet, years later, one Sheli Chara from Chandel District was sponsored by the All Tribal Students’ Union, Manipur (ATSUM) though he couldn’t win.

With the countdown to the 17th Lok Sabha Polls barely a few days away from now, what the modern day campaign style and strategy really looks like in a democracy with reference to the North-East India in general and Manipur in particular may be depicted — the road to candidacy, planning and strategy. Not surprisingly, there are many people who are familiar with making comments on polls and its verdict without entering active politics.

The main event in politics is an election. Nothing else so dramatically focuses public attention upon the political process. Nothing else so forcefully gives the voters an immediate chance to participate in governmental affairs. To what extent the election successfully serves the purposes, indeed to what extent democracy itself succeeds depends in large measure upon the men and women for whom the people vote—the candidates.

They have the opportunity to educate, to lead in matters of public concern, who they are, how they come to the fore, and why they contest tell us much about the kind of political system we have. We in Manipur are a varied group unlike Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Mizoram and Meghalaya and our candidates reflect this variety as in the case of Outer Manipur Parliamentary Constituency.

Candidates come from all walks of life with different backgrounds, experiences, qualifications and personalities. Naturally, there is no model candidate as such, and never was so in the past polls. Some with all the ingredients for success had flopped and others unheard of when they just started had won smashing victories. No matter what generalisations are made about candidates, the fact remains that any boy or girl in a high school now might someday be a candidate.

Today, candidates from smaller tribal ethnic groups are in the fray. And even won in the past polls. It is fantastic and encouraging. Just because people want to be candidates does not necessarily mean that they always say so. In fact, one of the normal tactics in becoming a candidate is to steadfastly maintain that he or she does not intend to contest.

The theory is that this develops an appearance of modesty and an impression that the person ultimately runs only because of great popular demand. Most of the candidates do have much in common. First and foremost, they are strong talkers. They speak out easily and straight away. During the campaign, they are generally at ease with all sorts of people. They are fond of gatherings and meetings, and being with other people.

Candidates usually pursue their interests in people by joining a number of organisations within their constituencies. They become active in clubs, religious and charitable organisations. These groups provide a wide potential of political support. A final characteristic is the intangible quality of leadership. It is not just personality.

Voters want candidates they can respect — men and women in whom they can place public trust. Truly, they want the candidates to look ahead, to point the way to lead. A person endowed with a well known family name often has a bigger advantage. Apart from it, the best boost for candidacy comes from fame, becoming well and favourably well known to the public through their contributions in organisations and other social movement at the state level in the case of candidacy for LS Polls.

A name often becomes well known in politics through a succession of defeats. In many cases, the difference between becoming a candidate and winning or forever remaining a hopeful is just luck. Some accumulated with wealth also emerge as candidates in the context of Manipur. Some candidates enter political arena drawn by the lure of power, some by money. Nearly all candidates for LS Polls are motivated to a large extent by the desire of fame.

The thundering applause of an admiring audience, once heard, will be pursued by many for life time. For them, politics is a game where the winner has power, and the object is simply to hold power as long as possible. In few human activities can we gain so much power so quickly? It is possible by winning an election.

But for a few men in public life, the exercise of power is an end in itself—no botheration for public welfare after winning an election. That is what we have experienced. Then, of all these, it is the campaign the candidate has to conduct vigorously, and it is thus a pitched battle of politics. The most intensive phases of campaigns begin with the candidate’s direct appeal to the people for their votes before the polls actually take place.

Here is a saying that a political campaign for a candidate is a kaleidoscope of activity. It is excitement and long hours, enthusiasm and despair, high hopes and disappointments, exhilaration and exhaustion. But all the fanfare and confusion cannot obscure one simple, unyielding fact the candidate is before the voters to be watched and heard, liked or disliked, cheered or buoyed, respected or reviled in big gatherings.

And finally approved or rejected. For all the trapping of a campaign, nothing really comes between the candidate and the voters. They see him as he is and they learn of his record. They measure his personal qualities as in the case of urban areas quite unlike in the villages of Manipur. The candidate is the key to the campaign and his failings lead to defeat. His strengths make victory possible.

In the group of people working directly for the candidate himself who makes the central decision of the campaign. He is known as the chief agent. To him fall the myriad tasks of setting up the campaign, keeping it moving, and leaving the candidate as free as possible to concentrate on his major task for winning votes. All are needed if the candidate is to win. After all, some of these men and women leave their regular jobs to campaign full time for days. Some have high ideals they want to advance.

Others have suddenly become excited over a single issue — the need for a bridge or school or playground. Some seek only personal rewards of prestige, a job or money. Each one of them has succumbed to the fascination of modern politics. They assess his stands on the issues. They form the basic judgement to be made—whether they want the candidate to represent them in the dream parliament of India.

So, for the candidate, the campaign is the acid test. The campaign tests more than the candidate’s mind and conscience. It tests his physical and emotional stamina. Campaigns and hard work, gruelling tests of endurance. The physical strain is apparent to anyone to anyone who has watched a candidate maintain the hectic pace of a campaign schedule—a candidates stands and runs to try his luck.

The emotional strain is no less weaning. Throughout the campaign, the candidate is alternatively buoyed up and let down. He is on display like a swinging. Every speech, every word can help or hurt his candidacy. Besieged on all fronts, to express opinions on every issue, he knows he will please some groups and surely lose the support of others. A series of judgements confront him, testing his intellect — and his integrity.

It is sure to happen as present voters’ ethos are quite different from what they used to be in the 16th Lok Sabha Polls of both Inner and Outer Manipur Parliamentary Constituencies. The candidate must first decide his position on all the current issues like abrogation of AFSPA, 1958, ILP, Integrity of the State, CAB, 2019, Development of hills and Rural Areas of Manipur, overhauling of education structure for making life building education, etc.

On many questions the answer is easy, he has expressed his view repeatedly, and his position in speeches is a matter of record. Some questions are put to him for the first time, and he must find out all he can about them before he can honestly make up his mind. Inevitably, he faces some issues where there is a conflict between what he personally believes and what position he feels-the voters’ desire.

Most candidates stoutly claim that they always resolve issues on the basis of their personal views and beliefs. No candidate can preserve his self-respect if he flops on all issues, taking whatever seems popular at the moment. The voters expect a candidate to see some evidences that he has a mind of his own and the capacity to creative thought.

Yet, even the most independent minded candidate realises that on some issues he must take into account the wishes of his constituency if he is to have the chance of winning election. Some give in to popular pressure and are elected. Some maintain their convictions and are defeated. In the long run, keeping one’s self respect is a large part of winning and holding public office. Sometimes participation in the political process at the state level leads to candidacy.

Several men, those in the political parties as party leaders rarely become candidates. Fame and fortune go hand in hand but not necessarily in politics. Many candidates do enter politics in part at least, because of the hope of financial reward, now Rs.5 Crores a year for an MP. Then again, there are individuals who see politics to use public power for private gain and for clan domination. Often illegal and always unethical. Such activity occurs more and more in Hill Districts of Manipur.

Importantly on the campaign trail, some candidates make it a point never to mention or even refer to their opponents throughout campaign. Others usually challenge incumbent, often hit hard at something their opponents had done or failed to do. For instance, within a town or village, residents of one area want to know how the candidate stands on building a neighbourhood playground or community hall. Farmers in Manipur look carefully at the candidate’s views on price support legislation.

School teachers check to see whether the candidates think funds should be spent to increase their salaries and improve their service conditions if at all for quality education. All of these voters pay attention to the total campaign but the candidate who can persuade that he will accomplish an objective they especially favour stands a good chance of winning many extra votes. An enthusiastic crowd one day adds something more to his spirits. A savage editorial attack dismays him the next.

A poll shows him ahead. Workers or agents report that he is losing as in the mainland India. So, it goes days after days. Never knowing for sure whether all his activities are for winning votes or losing them, he presses on each day, doing everything he can do to persuade one more person to give him a vote. He goes all days and well into the nights, speaking, walking, driving long distance, looking around, listening, hearing, meeting, greeting and more talking. It is endless.

Suddenly, Election Day arrives and it is all over. His word stops for the first time in many days. His campaign, his effort to persuade the voters that he should be elected to the parliament comes to an end. For all the importance of campaigning, very little is known about the campaign. We have hardly any idea what persuades a voter to support one candidate over another.

Was it a dramatic speech or a good performance in the past? An attack on his opponent’s record? A pledge to develop the constituency? It might not have been one of these or all of these. Or it might have been the candidate’s personality or a favour done five or ten years ago or the urging of a friend just as the voter walks up to the polling booth. May not be for all this activity but for a hundred rupee notes.

It is to be remembered that an individual voter will decide whether he likes a particular candidate and vote for him regardless of party allegiance, regardless of past voting habits and regardless of anything predictable. Anyone of several reasons may prompt this decision. The voter likes the candidate’s looks; he hears his speech and is impressed; the candidate is a friend of his brother or sister; he is fed; his neighbour persuades the day before the election or he favours some course of action which the candidate has pledged to follow.

With so many candidates running in a constituency, the one who succeeds in getting his name known will usually win. Here, the strategy has to include making the voters aware of the candidate’s background, his experiences, his record, his views and his commitments or future action. A candidate must take stock of himself and decide what he wants to convey to the voters for the last.

The last thing being shortest route for campaigning is - go directly to the village heavyweights in case of hill districts as it won’t be possible at all to meet every stakeholder. Hello candidates, the time is running out and the clock is not going to strike back. This is the technique of every campaign as seeing is believing.

There is no substitute for meeting the voters in person but it is not that easy to cover all the places where large chunk of voters concentrate either in the Manipur hills or valley. The people want to see their candidates even for a brief handshake and a hurried answer to a question. That moment will fix an impression of the candidate in a voter’s mind for the entire campaign.

If a candidate can show up in a crowd for the last campaign, this chance more than assures his victory. Few candidates can hope to meet more than a small fraction of their voters. A candidate’s success will depend on getting his message across to the people, especially in the Lok Sabha Polls. This is simple, and the best policy candidates have to adopt for winning the pitched battles to be fought on the 11th and 18th April, 2019 .

Hence, unlike electing MLAs, the time has come for us to elect much wiser, appealingly more mature, liberal minded, sober, highly influential and oratorical candidates to represent us in the dream Parliament of India.

Good luck to all the candidates!

* Yangsorang Rongreisek wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer is ex-president of ATSUM (1975-77)
This article was webcasted on April 05, 2019.

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