Before You Vote : My Rumbling Thoughts

Rajendra Kshetri *

East or West. North or South. Democracy is the best. Be it direct and/or indirect. If not for anything else, it is the best because of two obvious reasons. For one thing, it is 'election' based (as opposed to and different from 'selection').

Secondly, it is 'people centric '. It puts people on the centre stage of policy making/formulation and subse- quent implementation. No less important reasons as to why democracy prevails over other systems are the respect it gives to difference of opinions and the space it provides for dissenting voices.

The 'so- enviable' and the 'so-near perfect' system, that it is, democracy will become demoNcracy if elections are not held at regular intervals. Democracy will metamorphose into demoNcracy if citizens/people/electorate are ill-informed, less educated, less critical and allow worst persons to hold best positions/posts in the society.

Bharat, that is India, often described as the 'mother of democracy' has kept the intrinsic element of democracy alive by holding elections every five years since day one of the first general elections held between 25 October 1951 and 21 February 1952. Successive Governments since Independence, be it Congress/Congress-led, Janata/Janata-led, BJP/BJP-led have well performed and discharged the Constitutional duty of holding elections at regular intervals.

So, Indian democracy is alive, so to speak. However, the lurking danger of it turning into sort of a demoNcracy still persists as the electorates/people have not yet developed/shown the level of maturity and critical thinking so required for a vibrant democracy to flourish.

People still keep on voting for the same old dumb politicians who cannot distinguish between mortar and motor, guerrilla and gorilla, snake and snacks. No wonder these elected politicians have been taking the people for a long long ride with tall promises.

Be that as it may, in keeping with the democratic tradition of the country, the largest festival of Indian democracy is going to kick-start soon. The General Parliamentary Election 2024 for 18th Lok Sabha is scheduled to be held in 7 phases from 19 April to 1st June.

Manipur, an erstwhile Princely State in British India and now a full-fledged State in Independent India, will go to polls in two phases for 2 Parliamentary Seats -Inner and Other Manipur - on 19 April and 26 April respectively.

For Manipur, this general elections for 18th Lok Sabha is unlike any other elections the State and the people have had experienced earlier. This election is important, nay, more than important for reasons more than one.

First, the announcement (of the election schedule) came along, rather thrust upon the people, at a time when the length and breadth of the State is caught in the vortex of a severe and unprecedented ethnic crisis. The 'ethnic explosion' which began on May 3 of last year has so far claimed more than 200 lives and over 60,000 people rendered homeless (now made to settle in relief camps).

Secondly, this election hardly holds any meaningful meaning and purpose for tens of thousands of 'internally displaced persons'. All they want/desire is to return to their original homes.

No matter how well they are taken care of /looked after by the State and other Samaritan groups, they don't want to continue living in such 'make-believe' shelter homes. No amount of mitigating measures could replace/substitute old 'homesweet-home' . "How long will they be made to endure this traumatized lives" is one question they all have in common.

The last thing they want is 'election'. "We want to go back home, not vote", "Vote is not a priority for us", "We will not participate in the election until normalcy returns and we are allowed to return home". These are not mere empty words but heart touching/soulful cry of the displaced persons.

Thirdly, sizeable sections of people are of the opinion that Now is not the appropriate time to hold election at a time when ethnic violence continues unabated for over 11 months. Elections should be deferred/rescheduled in the State of Manipur till conducive atmosphere returns.

Fourthly, and more importantly, this election is a litmus test for the electorates. The election shall indicate for sure whether people who have been and are critical of the manner in which both the Governments-Union and State-have handled the Manipur situation, will translate/convert their sentiments into votes.

It is that disturbing sign of the time we all live in an Orwellian world. 'Big Brother' is watching. Big Brother takes care of people's need. Big Brother protects people. Big Brother guides People... Big Brother lures people into, of all the things, Election. Big Brother with a difference, uh!

Come 19th April. Come 26th April, 2024. The people of Manipur-'Children of a Lesser Godí - shall make good use of the Constitutional franchise to vote and choose their Representatives in the Lower House of Indian Parliament. And this is where the question/importance of choosing the right representative comes in the picture.

Do we have the Right Candidate ? Do we have the Right Political Party ? Or more importantly, do we have the Right Person in the Right Party ? What if we have the right candidate but in the wrong party ? And/or vice -versa. Do we have the Right Person capable enough to storm, stir and shake the House ? Do we have the Right Person who can and must tell the Untold Story of Manipur and the Meeteis ?

These are questions, crucial questions that electo- rates should ponder seriously. Before You Vote. Lest one points finger at the 'silence of good men,' here is my two cents.

My Take: Take One--"Imaleibakki damak", "Ima Manipurgi damak", "Anouba Manipur amagi"... Catchy and Emotive phrases/words from all the Candidates contesting for the lone Inner Manipur Parliamentary Seat.

Dear Electorates, Beware of them. Beware of these 'wolves in sheep's clothes'. We have heard and seen them all.

Take Two -- Make the following pledge (s):

1. I Shall Not Be Influenced By Money and Muscles.
2. I Shall Not Be Influenced By Party Ideology and Personality.
3. I Shall Not Be Influenced By Rhetoric.
4. I Shall Obey My Conscience.

Take Three -- (try to) Find Out

1. The Right Man in the Right Party for the Right Cause.
2. The Man who Puts People's Interest above Personal Interest.
3. The Candidate who is a Minimalist in election Expenditure.

Take Four -- " This election is different", "This election is different", "For a New Manipur", "For a Better Manipur", "For a Resur- gent Manipur",... Heard it before. Couldn't remember how many times though. Dear Kangleichas, don't you believe. Words could be sugar coated. Lips could be played/serviced. Faces could be deceptive.

Ponder yourself...Do they say what they mean and/or mean what they say... Don't you ever believe what they promise (they will promise you the moon and the sun). They themselves never believe what they said. They are rather surprised to be taken at their words.

Don't just listen and be swayed by rhymes and rhetorics, superfluous speeches and oratory skills. Look at their eyes. Eyes never lie. Be your own Master. Not HMV. Decide at your own free will. With Integrity. Vote you must. With Clean and Clear Conscience.

Take Five ---A personalized end note:

Many a times I wonder, I still do, why all our Meetei MPs, past and present, in the Lower House of the Parliament have not done anything worthwhile for the people and the State. Mind you, a couple of them have had a long 15 years (3 consecutive terms) stint in the House.

Too long a period for any Member to do something worth remembering. Why man! Why 15 years? 5 years - 1 single term - is enough of a period to do something great/memorable for his Constituency and people.

With all the perks, privileges, funds available (especially MPLADF), connec- tions and accessi-bilities to the top corridor of political power, an MP could have-should have rather-done wonders. For instance, any one of them, I mean those Meetei MPs (not excluding the present incumbent) could have cleaned/initiated for cleaning the 2 most polluted rivers in the State, say Nambul and Kongba turel.

No, they didn't do. They don't want to. Forget about doing. It never crossed their fertile minds. They were/are least concerned. Not bothered. They all have better things to do and worry about. They were/are simply too happy and contented to be just an MP (now pensionable) enjoying salaries, perks, privileges, allowances and what not. Who cares ? Who gave/gives a dime for the people and the State ?

'What is good for me (and my family, friends and relatives) is not good for people and the State '. 'What is good for my people and the State is not necessarily good for me, my family, friends and relatives'. Therefore, 'grab what you can and let people go to hell '. 'Make hay while the sun shines'. 'Serve out the term(s)'.

This roundabout sums up the unspoken, unwritten, self-constructed and self-imposed model code of conduct followed by our Meetei MPs in the Lower House of Indian Parliament.

Dear Voters, Think About It. Beware and double careful when and whom YOU VOTE For.

* Rajendra Kshetri wrote this article for The Sangai Express
Prof. Rajendra Kshetri is former Head (Retd.) Dept of Sociology, Manipur University.
His published books include "The Emergence of Meetei Nationalism",
"District Councils in Manipur",
"Cry of a Dying River", and
"Letters from the Republic of Dust".
This article was webcasted on April 15 2024.

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