Flights Of Fantasy
[ M Panging Pao ]
Simultaneous elections for the panchayats and municipalities have been announced by the State Election Commission to be conducted on 22 December. Presently, Arunachal Pradesh has 25 zilla parishads with 241 constituencies and 2,215 gram panchayats with 8,436 seats. Elections will also be held for the two civic bodies in the state, the Itanagar Municipal Corporation and the Pasighat Municipality, which have 20 and 8 wards, respectively. About 7,39,284 voters will be eligible to exercise their franchise at 2,175 polling booths for both the elections. About 40,000 security personnel and election officials will be deployed to conduct the elections.
The panchayati raj system was evolved by a committee led by late Daying Ering, with the aim of devolving power to the villages and the grassroots. With elections being announced, governance will again suffer as most government officials will be busy or deployed to conduct these elections.
With an average of two plus candidates for each ZPM, gram panchayat or municipal councillor, it is estimated that about 22,000 candidates will be in the fray and the combined spending by all candidates would amount to more than Rs 200 crore in these elections. In addition, the election commission and the government are estimated to spend another Rs 50-100 crore for conducting elections.
With the economy in recession due to Covid-19 and lakhs of people rendered jobless, is it worthwhile to spend these large sums of money for elections? Should these large amounts of money be used for other developmental activities?
Regarding the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic also, it is estimated by medical experts that Covid cases are expected to surge in the winter as most people stay indoors and winter is marked by an increase in flu cases. Many countries of Europe are going for a second period of lockdowns and restrictions. In addition to rush during voting day, electioneering involves campaigning with many functions, which are likely to violate the Covid guidelines. Could the elections have waited post availability of the Covid vaccine?
Traditionally, elections in Arunachal are associated with expenditure of humongous amounts of money required for buying voters with cash and kind. Many villagers are lured with cash or kind like liquor, two-wheelers, home appliances, mobiles, etc. Ideology-based politics are being subsumed by cash politics or clan politics. It is estimated that during elections common villagers earn in thousands with many earning in lakhs.
If a candidate spends Rs 40-50 lakhs for winning elections, he/she will spend the initial years recovering the spent amount, leading to diversion of funds required for developmental activities. Therefore, the new Arunachal requires a paradigm shift for casting our valuable votes. Votes should be cast for development in all fronts, peace and stability in society. We have to stop selling out votes. We are proud tribals who have a legacy of speaking the truth and standing up for the right. We are our fathers’ sons and mothers’ daughters. Let’s make a beginning by not selling our votes in these elections. As a proud Arunachalee, will you sell your votes? (The contributor is retired Group Captain, Indian Air Force)