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Meghalaya Election Trivia

By H H Mohrmen

Election is not only a grand festival and a time for joy and merry-making for those who are actively involved in the process but it also has some twists and turns which some would consider trivial but serve as lessons for many who wish to learn from what had occurred. After all, as some say, life is but a learning process from the cradle to the grave. Here is a playful reminiscence of few incidents which occurred in the last election to the Meghalaya state assembly which might be of interest.

So much has been written about the serious aspects of the election which are grim and dull and which also make people sceptical. They are beginning to ask if elections can really help voters elect the best of the candidates in the fray to become an MLA. Are we getting good and better MLAs from this 2018 election? There is a general consensus at least from all the defeated candidates across party lines that money has played a vital role in the election. Some have even said that it has corroded the moral fabric of the society. That the victorious candidates have chosen to remain silent to the charge can be taken as consent. 

The election has surely not come with the best of results that we expected; however, it is also true that we will never get a perfect outcome from any election in a democracy. Also, there is no bar from looking at the lighter side of the election too. Here are some recollections of the incidents which happened during the last election to the state assembly which can also be entertaining. 

A friend whose curiosity knows no bounds and who also likes to observe people’s behaviour remarked that during elections the animal instincts in people becomes obvious and in fact they behave like birds. He added that during elections one would see that in every place where people congregate, be it a church or community gathering or even when they attend a funeral or visit the bereaved family, they would behave strangely. Just like birds, where sparrows will only flock with fellow sparrows and the crow with crows only, humans too do just that although unconsciously. The only difference is that during elections given the opportunity people congregate according to their party affiliations or rally round the candidate they respectively support. 

Sometimes election can deny an individual his or her basic right. A friend, whose wife was deputed for election duty, told me that the news caused her great anxiety. The reason is because she was then still breast feeding her baby. She had to stop the breast feeding because she had to attend to election duties. The baby was unfortunately deprived of his basic right to food because of the election.

For some of the people who play bet in archery, Rahul Gandhi’s visit to Jowai was an opportune time when lady luck smiled at them while the others cursed the day they were born because they did not read the good sign that Rahul came to show them. A person who betted on a particular number said that when Rahul’s cavalcade reached Iawmusiang (where there are lots of archery stalls ) he waved at the crowd from his car with only one hand and the guy who had the presence of mind to read  the sign bought the number five and he won handsomely that evening. Another player in Shillong cursed his luck because he did not play on fifty five and therefore lost the opportunity to win money that evening. The reason was that before Rahul addressed the crowd in Shillong he waved at the crowd with both his hands, which the bettor read as forecasting that number fifty five would be the winning number that evening.

A friend who was deputed for election duty in a certain polling station shared the story of a poor, illiterate woman in a village where he was officiating, who after casting her vote came out of the booth crying saying that everything is gone and now her vote is wasted. When the official asked her why, the lady said she did not remember whether she used the thumb or the forefinger to press the button. She then asked the official whether she should use her thumb which she used for her impression (because she cannot sign) or the forefinger which was marked (before she was allowed) to press the button. She was under the impression that she can only vote using the specific finger but she was not sure whether it should be the thumb or the forefinger.  

Then there is a story of a secretary of a certain shnong who in spite of the official announcement from the concerned department that before the election guns owners should deposit their arms with the government, the man purposely kept the gun. He of course kept the gun for obvious reasons. He wanted to use it to threaten the members of his community, till this was reported and the police had to intervene and seize the gun.   

But the story of the Niam Phniang is one which has a huge impact on the outcome of the election and this is one issue that the government will have to seriously consider even after the election. A certain cult-like religious group which was initially started simply as an opposition to Aadhar enrolment has spread to every nook and corner of the region. The group opposed Aadhar enrolment because they claim that the twelve digit number is the mark of the demon, it is against the scriptures and it is also against the teachings of the church.

During the election the groups which are now populating every part of the Khasi Jaintia region of the state even prohibited its followers to cast their votes. A report I received is that some candidates who lost the election by a small margin blamed the followers of Niam Phniang for their defeat because the every candidate claims to know that there are members of the cult who support him/her but because they refused to exercise their rights, the candidates lost the election.

Of course it is the right of the citizen of this country to follow and practice any religion as this is guaranteed by the Constitution, but the problem is that there are certain ways of life that the followers of Niam Phniang practice which are not safe for the followers and even the society at large. Certain practices adopted by the practitioners of this faith group could also be a threat to others and can also be seen as being against the law of the land.

The followers of Niam Phniang not only refused to vote but it was informed they also refuse to have to do with the government. And there are reports that some who were government employees even resigned their jobs because they believe the end is near. People call them Niam Phniang (oil religion) because if members of the group fall sick they refuse to visit the doctor or get any medication to cure their ailments. They would rely only on prayer and provide water and would rub and massage oil on the patient to get him or her cured. They would flatly refuse to give the patient any medication.

There are few unsafe practices of this group which can also be considered illegal because it denies a section of its followers their basic or fundamental rights as guaranteed under the Constitution of the country. It is alleged that the followers of this group had stopped sending their kids to schools. That is not all. It was also reported that they have even refused to get their babies vaccinated or to be administered polio vaccines. This is a very serious matter which the government should take serious note of because it has to do with the rights of the infant which cannot decide for itself.  

Recently there were news reports about this group in the Bhoi district and Mawkyrwat which was carried by the local media. The groups were found to congregate in certain jungles in these two districts, but the fact is the followers of this particular group can be found everywhere.

Of all the election-related stories that are mentioned in this column, others can be treated as trivial; but the story of the followers of Niam Phniang is something that the government needs to follow through. Clearly this is no longer a matter of religion but of superstition.

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