March 2, 2007 1:10:35 am
Predicting human choices is often beyond the reified world of psephology. And therefore, notwithstanding the statistical projections, the exercise of ‘meaning-making’ or making sense of the what, why and wherefore of voters’ choices is inevitable in every election’s aftermath.
Take the result of the just-concluded election in Manipur. One of the major issues that have rocked the state, and even forced a reluctant government at the Centre to respond, has been the controversy over the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. It has been an ‘election issue’ with many political parties promising that they would work for the removal of the Act, if they come to power. But the Congress, a party which not only blocked a resolution to have the Act removed in the just dissolved 8th Assembly but also did not include the issue in its election manifesto, retained power in the state. That too, by significantly improving its performance from the earlier election, barely missing the figure of absolute majority. How do we make sense of this?
Or, take the case of ‘Naga integration’ in the hills of Manipur. The United Naga Council (UNC) fielded eleven candidates as the ‘consensus’ representatives of the ‘Naga people’. But not only did other Naga candidates fiercely contest them, only six of them managed to win. In Tamenglong, a part of the proclaimed ‘Naga Areas’, Khanthuanang Panmei, who had been reportedly forced to announce ‘retirement’ from the elections by the NSCN (I-M) after he was kidnapped, won by a significant margin. How do we make sense of this ‘consensus’ of ‘Naga aspiration’?
Or, what about the claims of the Congress that people have voted the party back to power for ‘development’? In a state with dismal infrastructure and abysmal basic amenities in terms of drinking water and electricity, why have people voted the same government to power again? And what about the ‘regional sentiment’ or ‘regionalism’ which the Manipur Peoples’ Party is said to represent? The recent ‘resurgence’ of this party in the pre-election scenario was followed by its dismal electoral performance. How do we make sense of this?
These issues question the certainty or nature of the ‘realities’ we take for granted. For instance, the ‘consensus’ of the ‘Naga people’ and their aspiration, or the ‘people’s voice’ against the Armed Forces Special Powers Act or perhaps even more crucially, the ‘representative-ness’ of democracy.
The success of the Congress could be largely due to the issue of ‘stability’ that the party has projected during the elections. Given the historicity of the power relations between the Centre and the state, the party that rules at New Delhi invariably tends to form the government in Imphal. Besides, the democratic election, at least in South Asia, is not merely a question of electing a ‘representative’ for ‘governance’. It is also a question of ensuring access to the corridors of powers by electing people who convey such an assurance (be it on the basis of one’s caste or kinship or other attributes). This has been the crucial psychology that constitutes ‘voting behaviour’ in the region.
Another crucial aspect that has marked the success of the Congress is the ‘opportunism’ that people read in those politicians who joined the other major party, the Manipur People’s Party, just before the elections. That most of these heavyweights lost the elections is a pointer to that feeling.
But at the end of it, the people have expressed their will, and despite its seeming contradictions, they will be ruled by a government that results from that expression.
The writer is a social and political psychologist at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, New Delhi
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