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Elections 2013: Tickets up for sale

By H Mohrmen

Allegations that political parties are allotting tickets to candidates based on their winnability factor are gaining ground. But what is also learnt is that political partesi are assessing the winnability factor by the amount of money a candidate has to splash around during the elections. And now that politics is fast becoming a lucrative profession, businessmen and women of every hue are making a beeline to join politics in hordes. No wonder political parties both regional and national prefer to allot party tickets to these mercenaries with fat bank balances because money undoubtedly is one major winnability factor. There were allegations in the past that rich candidates were allotted ticket because they were also expected to contribute to the party’s election kitty. But one thing is certain – if there are two contenders for the party ticket – one a well qualified candidate and another a semi literate but with a big bank balance – the ticket will go to the latter because the one with educational qualification cannot win elections but money can.

If we think that poor people who make a long queue in front of the candidates’ houses during elections are the only ones who get monetary benefits during election, then we are far off the mark. In fact, those who make a beeline for the candidates’ houses are simply demanding money for their immediate needs like hospital bills, children’s education, young people for picnics and excursions etc and the candidates may, at best also have to serve them tea and rice. This is just a fraction of the money that candidates spend during election. A person I know told me recently that she had been advised to undergo a surgical operation but she could not afford it. She was then introduced by an acquaintance of hers to a candidate for the ensuing election and now she is ready to go under the scalpel – courtesy the candidate. There are also NGOs taking undue advantage of the election to benefit their organization. But we will be appalled to know that big money changes hands between a candidates and the many layers of supporters that he has. In other words, a candidate has to spend more money to gain supporters particularly those who are in leadership positions in their respective areas.

A serious contender in Jaintia hills began his electioneering two years ago. This young candidate and a first time MLA, who started electioneering much before any other candidates did have been able to remove all potential candidates from his constituency two years before the election is expected to happen. He was able to make the current and the only non-congress MLA to move from the present constituency lock stock and barrel and seek re-election from another constituency in the district. The current MLA from the constituency was forced to look for a greener pastures and the tycoon MLA was also able to convince the previous MLA and a possible strong contender against him to shift base to another constituency in another district. Both the candidates voluntarily moved to another constituency to enable this young business tycoon have a cake walk next February and there is all likelihood that this candidate might return uncontested too. But the big question is – how was he able to convince the two contenders to make way and allow him to have a smooth sailing next election?

When a candidate is asked to make way for another candidate so that he has an easy win, in Pnar they call it ‘chah pynchong’ or ‘he was asked to sit’. And yes your guess is as good as mine; the candidate or the potential candidate, who was asked to sit or withdraw his candidature on behalf of the other, would not do so unless he benefited from the deal. There is again a saying in Pnar about such events. They call it ‘ka bai pynchong’ or the price one asks for withdrawing one’s candidature. The trend is now increasing. There are candidates who announce their candidature for the next election only to withdraw later when the deal is struck and the price is settled with the opposing candidate. It is another way of earning easy money for people with popularity. This is one way how money exchanges hands during elections and of course the candidates are not for sale, but candidature is and it involves big money.

The recent deals that the Congress MDC from Jirang and a strong contender for the Congress party ticket entered with the MP to make way for his friend to contest from Jirang constituency bears a striking resemblance to the many cases of candidates who were urged to withdraw (chah pynchong) in favour of another candidate. The deal the two Congressmen struck which was reported in the media leave ample room for speculation that there is more to it than meets the eyes and everybody knows that the MDC would not withdraw his candidature unless he benefited from the deal and only the MP, MDC, and the potential Congress candidate from Jirang Constituency who also claims to be a descendant of Kiang Nangbah will know.

This column had predicted that Jaintia Hills would have more than 7 MLAs. In other words, more than 7 MLAs of Jaintia origin will win the next election. Jirang was not on the list then. The list includes a business tycoon from Jaintia hills with no formal education contesting from Umroi, the previous MLA of Nartiang who has to shift base to Nongkrem to make way for the high and the mighty, possibly a JHADC MDC from Sohryngkham. The present MLA from Rymbai is expected to contest from Umsning. These are the candidates from Jaintia expected to contest the 2013 elections from East Khasi Hills and Ri Bhoi District with the backing of money bags from the district. Most of these candidates will contest the election come what may, because they know that money is the only winning factor in the election; and that they have in plenty.

Huge amounts of money are also spent on buying canvassers and leaders in the villages and regions of the constituency. To improve their winning chances the common strategy adopted by many candidates during elections is to make sure they have the support of the local MDC of the area and also as many Rangbah Shnong as possible on their side. The MDCs too have their own price; they make sure that the expenditure they incur during the campaign is replenished after elections and some even charge a hefty fee for their support and to canvass for the candidate. The candidate also makes sure that the Rangbah Shnong or the leader in the village is pumped with enough money to cover expenditures like serving tea, rice for the villagers and even to buy their votes.

Sad to say but we are not going to see any change with regards to the use of money power in the coming election. Money will play a major role and it will influence the election results of every constituency particularly those in the rural areas. In fact if there is any change it will be for the worse. More money is going to change hands during the elections. In some cases the process has already started. Even fresh candidates have to arrange excavators for making village playgrounds, roads etc. Candidates also require money to donate to NGOs and to distribute to voters to pay hospital bills, children’s education and etc. Candidates are also being invited to grace all kinds of functions. They have to offer money at every event invited.

So money does indeed make the election world go round despite what the Election Commission of India rules!

(The writer is a researcher and an environmental activist)

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