A Reflection on Election
You waste the attention of your eyes,
the glittering labour of your hands,
and knead the dough enough for dozens of loaves
of which you’ll taste not a morsel;
you are free to slave for others–
you are free to make the rich richer.
From Nazim Hikmet’s A Sad State of Freedom
Translated by Taner Baybars
Democracy and electoral politics are two different things; or in other words, all the electoral politics is democracy but all the democracy is not electoral politics. However, these have coalesced into a single entity in Manipur, thanks to the militarisation policies of India and to our amazing sense of political consciousness.
If we go by the ideals, utilitarianism—the ethical philosophy that the greatest good is in the happiness of the greatest number of people—would have been a reality. Likewise, no matter how much the US would sell democracy for oil, or closer home, no matter how much the Indian nation-state believes in its military prowess, there is something hideous about democracy.
In this context, democracy is as rotten as electoral politics while the election fever, in the run up to the March poll in Manipur, has made it worse. Every five year, we elect representatives numbering sixty from as many assembly constituency; and they have destroyed anything good that was left of democracy for reasons that might take a book to elaborate; albeit from hindsight, we can observe from our collective life: from the issues of blatant corruption to those of ceaseless political conflicts. To take an example, refer to the burning topics of economic blockade, which has been in effect for the last three months or so. Again, with reference to the blockade, the concept of democracy has been reduced to a farce when the blockade supporters claim that it is a democratic exercise.
If that is democracy, then it is about creating a humanitarian crisis on a whim; and it is also about holding the government and civil society to ransom, for people is the power in such a system. As if these internal circumstances are not enough, for quite a long time, literally from the outside, the Centre has been responsible for sending in numbers of armies and paramilitary forces to ironically uphold the principles of democracy in Manipur.
Policemen per population of 100,000 in India
All India 141
(Figures from National Crime Records Bureau, 2013 data)
By the Book
Theoretically, we can see further how democracy has become one of the most ridiculous systems in lived history.
In What Is Democracy (Standford University), American political sociologist Larry Diamond lists the four key elements of democracy:
1. A political system for choosing and replacing the government through free and fair elections.
2. The active participation of the people, as citizens, in politics and civic life.
3. Protection of the human rights of all citizens.
4. A rule of law, in which the laws and procedures apply equally to all citizens.
How does this political system exist in our neighbourhoods?
Free and fair election: One of the unique issues of election in Manipur pertains to cash for vote. In the post-demonetisation days, experts have declared that interested electorates will be getting ₹2,000 notes unlike the ₹500 and ₹1000 notes that used to be the case in the past. Talking about fairness, the winning candidate of my constituency is a close relative; so my mother, sister, uncles, aunts and cousins will ‘freely’ cast their votes for him this time as well.
Active participation of the people: Street politics and protests give the illusion of our active participation in public issues. However, it has been a long time that public issues had taken a backseat and everything else is now the personal in the town. Altruism is an alien concept and robbery—not charity—begins at home. In short we have no public issues and in emergency, all we have are personal solutions, or if not, we will resort to street protests. Alternatively, our active participation is visible only in our rush for free booze and free meals in the pre-election weeks.
Protection of human rights: Refer to this news item from the 11 July 2016 edition of the Indian Express:
Manipur: 1,528 ‘fake encounters’ later, a court rules
The ruling should come as a relief for the conflict-ridden north-eastern state, where the demand to repeal AFSPA, in force here since 1958, has been a long standing one. The Supreme Court on Friday held that armed forces cannot use excessive force even in areas that come under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and ruled that over 1,500 cases (1,528 to be precise) of alleged fake encounters in Manipur, over the last 20 years, ‘must be investigated’.
Presumably, I need not add more on the issue of human rights. When the right to life is reduced to ex-gratia-able service, the right to vote means little to the people.
Rule of law: One of the causalities of a conflict region is the people’s contempt for the rule of law. When the lawmakers, led by the Government of Manipur, are simply nonchalant there is nothing surprising about this condition. Adding more insult, they have developed a nefarious connection with bureaucrats and contractors while they are well guarded by the police and army, as they indulge in daylight robbery. Amidst this madness, election only legitimises their existence.
The End as the Beginning
A little less than three decades ago, Francis Fukuyama might have declared the end of history with liberal democracy but in our backyard, the history of oppression and subjugation continues unabated, and the credit goes to those sponsoring state terrorism and involved in rudderless movements for the right to self-determination. Under the veil of democracy, we can see the images of all forms of unscrupulous politicians, a hopeless society and the fixed gap between the rulers and the ruled.
Again, democracy offers us an illusion that we take part directly in forming the government ‘of the people’ but in reality, it is just the opposite. If we go to our leikais and leiraks, all we can hear are grievances and complaints that are meaningless, spineless on one hand and tales of utter helplessness on the other.
This discontentment might be universal. We may have the power to vote but we are powerless over the results and the chance of having that power is equal to the chance of winning the ubiquitous Eon car in a ‘housie’ but without a ticket. When election is a primary feature of this kind of system, we need not elaborate on its futility.
In such a condition one can only tolerate the indignation for the sake of sanity—while some prospective candidates of the election are creating noises for party tickets, some candidates are busy defecting to other parties; a humanitarian crisis is underway; the reports of irregularities in employment are all over the news; empty promises and endemic corruption are the new normal—and we are facing them resiliently. It does take a lot of gut to be a Manipuri yet there is nothing to be proud of.
What we need is revolution, not election and not even democracy. Political reform is a myth in our society. Any related belief to this kind of reform is just a handiwork of conformists and those who swear by the system regardless of their motives. To conclude we can misquote Althusser: the ultimate condition of revolution is the reproduction of the conditions of revolution.