Sold to the highest bidder

Monday Musing

[ Tongam Rina ]

There are four kinds of voters in Arunachal: first are those people who take money to vote, in the second category are those people who don’t take money upfront but will seek favor later in the form of contributions for building a house, sponsoring education, or buying a car, or as an emergency fund as and when needed. Favor can be anything and anytime during the five-year tenure. The third category is people who vote for a candidate because they like the candidate or are tired of the other candidate, or anti-incumbency. The fourth type of voters are people who have no say in who to vote for because the exchange for a vote has already been negotiated by the family head or extended family.

In a democracy it sounds absurd and a sure shot recipe for corruption. In most parts of the country, people vote for a cause, for a party, or an appealing candidate. Arunachalee and their politicians take the extreme step of buying and selling votes. Votes are sold and ethics, self-respect, and all are on sale. The ballot goes to the highest bidder, and it’s definitely not a secret. How did the voters end up putting themselves on sale every five years to the highest bidder? Because not so long ago, it wasn’t all about money. It was about issues – opium de-addiction camps, school uniforms, water taps, teachers, hostels, hospitals. You know, those issues that actually mattered for a larger society. By the early 90s, issues weren’t winning politicians’ elections. Roads, schools, uniforms, and even free government jobs weren’t winning them elections. Money was. I asked some people who have been at the thick of it. They say that money started flowing like a river after government employees, particularly engineers and business men changed professions to become politicians/

After these govt officers and business men were done spending their ill gotten money, they brought in the non-tribal business community from within and outside the state who gave money in exchange for favor and contract works. Once money started pouring in, there was no stopping. Each election gets more expensive. This election has to be the most expensive, with one vote being sold for up to 1.5 lakhs in some constituencies while in some places, it was as low as 3000 Rs. Some constituencies like Yachuli, Ziro, Aalo, Dirang, Nyapin, Palin, entire East Kameng are already notorious for huge monetary involvement. While it has gone up to an obscene amount in these constituencies, all the constituencies too have splurged, even if it meant begging and borrowing. It’s out in open how so many candidates have sold properties, kept local antique ornaments as collateral and also sold land. It was a do or die situation.

In one constituency, where one had an upper hand over the other, a last-minute dispatch of 3 crores from Itanagar apparently sealed the deal against him. Don’t ask me who in Itanagar sent the money. Conservative estimates are that each candidate has spent not less than 20 crores in all the constituencies. Many constituencies have gone beyond 50 crores, and few may have crossed that also. Politicians know the importance and power of money and that voters are worse than politicians. The debate on who monetized the vote will go on, but since politicians know that at the end of the day only money will talk, they don’t bother to show up during the entire duration of their tenure. They will only visit the constituency as a chief guest once in a while. There may be some performing politicians, but it’s more or less the same. They spend five years making money, and average voters get money once in 5 years from them. How do you expect MLAs who spend crores of rupees to work for the development of their constituency? They will be more worried about their next election. To recover the money, they and their families spend the next five years indulging in corruption. Those who don’t do that will be eliminated by the party itself.

Democracy here in Arunachal is about the spending power of a candidate and the party. It has nothing to do with anything else. I don’t see this changing in a long time. That’s why Arunachal performs so badly because money has to be made from these same schemes which are for the citizens. When the whole system is rooted in corruption, where is the time to talk about genuine issues. It’s a vicious circle, and there is no coming out of it anytime soon. We all know the problem, and there is a solution too. It’s just that we aren’t ready for change yet.