Political parties in Nagaland may not have yet started preparing for the next state assembly election likely to be held in February 2018, but the influential Church has. On Thursday, the Nagaland Baptist Church Council (NBCC) not only brought representatives of as many as seven political parties, but also made them agree to a list of 18 Do’s and Don’ts that would ensure a “clean” election next year.
“Many things are happening in our society that should not be happening in a Christian-majority state, and dirty election is one of them,” Rev Zelhou Keyho, NBCC general secretary, who organised a colloquium in Kohima said. “When the ideals of democratic electioneering process are abused, the result becomes devastating. What has become of us needs no further description. We cannot go on like this. We must change to give hope to our children,” he said, justifying the NBCC’s intervention.
He also said that for the Church, the Clean Election campaign was a “Holy discontent” movement, through which the NBCC has made an attempt to “do its bit” because “more than half of our problem will be solved if we manage to clean the dirty mess of electioneering system in our society.”
“We have tried to put our heads together to find ways and means and develop our strategies and strengthen each other without becoming discouraged. We must do our bit. We cannot remain critical at every stage and become sceptics,” Rev Keyho said. “The dirty election system that has eaten us away making us impotent in our performances,” he added.
Rev Keyho however claimed that the Clean Election Campaign had nothing against politicians, political parties and individuals. “It is a campaign for positive change and attitude, to educate the voters to use their birthright honourably and with dignity.” And, justifying why the NBCC had stepped in, he said the Church had focused on itself for much too long without addressing the issues that affected the spiritual-biblical-theological-faith dimensions.
The 18-point pledge that the most influential Church body got the political parties sign has asked political parties and leaders, among other things, not to buy votes with money, not to bribe voters with money or materials, not to distribute party money or provide party-based development work during election time, not to distribute alcohol, drugs, or other intoxicants to voters, and not to provide feasts and picnics for going to processions and rallies.
It also went on to ask political parties and leaders not to use force, intimidation and undue influence to the voters, not to use the support of underground groups for threatening voters, and not to indulge in booth-capturing and any other activities which are unbecoming of any political party.
Apparently picking up from the code of conduct that the Church had imposed on political parties and leaders in Mizoram several years ago, the NBCC also asked them not to set up camps in colonies, khels and villages, apart from refraining from putting up flags and posters on private houses and buildings. It also asked parties not to go for house-to-house campaigning, and instead asked them to take part in common platforms organized by Clean Election Committees at various levels.
Meanwhile, NBCC president and CEC convenor Rev Dr Mar Atsongchanger said it was a call for the Nagas to change themselves in the effort to transform the Naga society. “Our doors, our pillars are being shaken by corruption. As long as we do not have the sense as a nation to do right, it will be difficult for us to put things in correct terms,” he said, also appealing to the voters to be a part of the campaign.
Political leaders who signed the pledge however admitted it was difficult to make elections clean. “Though clean election is a tough thing, it is however doable. All the parties should come up to support the clean election campaign. The Church leaders however should not be biased towards one party,” said M Chuba Ao, former BJP state unit president.
Apong Pongener, working president of the ruling Naga People’s Front (NPF) on his part said, “Election is the root of corruption. But, when others like Mizoram could achieve this, why cannot we? We have great hope that the Church can do something in this regard. We support the clean election campaign.”
The Congress, which has been out of power for since 2003, on its part wanted to know what went wrong in the past. “Let us go back to address the issues where we have gone wrong in the past. Let us seize the opportunity to support the initiative of NBCC. Opportunities to change don’t come quite often. And, if the Church fails, we Nagas will fail as a whole. Mizoram model on the success of clean election should be a bench mark for us,” G K Zhimomi of the Congress, who attended the meeting, said.