If the election is won with money power “we won’t find good leaders”, Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Pema Khandu categorically stated on Tuesday. He was addressing a packed amphitheatre at Kisama, the heritage village that hosts the annual Hornbill Festival. As Nagaland goes to polls in early 2018 with corruption as the major agenda, Khandu’s observation went down well with the gathering.
The vulgar use of money power by candidates of political parties has become a huge concern in Nagaland even as the state grapples with corruption.
Drawing similarities between Nagaland and Arunchal, Khandu said that both states not only reflect each other not only in ethnic diversity but also in political dynamics and diversity, especially the trend of extravagant spending during elections. “In elections, everyone tries to throw money in huge huge amount; this I think is not a good idea (sic),” Khandu observed, as he called for a change in that attitude. “If money culture exists in election process, we will not be able to find good leaders. If we do not find good leaders how can a state be developed?” asked Khandu, appealing to the youth to change this trend.
Khandu applauded Nagaland Chief Minister TR Zeliang, his cabinet colleagues and the church for pledging to a clean election campaign. The Nagaland Baptist Churches Council recently initiated a Clean Election Campaign to ensure fair and honest electoral practice.
Arunachal Pradesh was shaken last year after its former chief minister Kalikho Pul committed suicide. In his explosive 60-page note, Pul had written – “I ask, when will the public wake up from its slumber, when will it come to its senses? How long will people be taken in by the leaders’ flashy cars and their lures of liquor and money in return for votes, mistaking their false promises to be the truth?”
The incumbent Arunachal Chief Minister himself changed party affiliations twice – in September 2016 from the Indian National Congress to the Peoples Party of Arunachal, and then in December 2016 to the Bharatiya Janata Party. Congress had then alleged rampant misuse of money power after the BJP government was formed led by Khandu.
Reeling under rampant corruption, the situation in Nagaland is bleak and the vulgar use of money in elections is an open secret.
Post Election Watch, a study conducted by a youth-based non-profit organisation YouthNet in 2013 revealed a staggering amount of Rs. 937,82,67,500 was approximately spent in the 2013 Nagaland Assembly elections by 188 candidates contesting for 60 seats. The study also revealed that an approximate amount of Rs. 569, 96,00000 was spent to buy votes and muscle power during the 2008 elections. The study further revealed that 11 candidates spent between Rs 20-40 crores, among whom eight won the elections and three lost. The average amount per household overall was Rs 10,000-20,000, the study claimed.
The YouthNet study concluded that the present system of election creates a vicious circle – wealth drainage during an election, rampant corruption of cut/share system from funds meant for development, no development/no productivity, stagnation of job both in the public and private sector, unemployment and poverty, all leading to votes again being bought with money in the ensuing elections.
Two years ago, the Clean Election Campaign in Nagaland was initiated but found few takers. In May this year, NBCC, the apex body of Nagaland Baptist churches, launched the Clean Election Campaign formally, targeting the 2018 elections.
Among the northeastern states, Mizoram since several years has a unique code of conduct of the church-backed watchdog Mizoram People’s Forum (MPF) to monitor the election process.