Wednesday, August 10, 2022

North East Christian churches and clean politics

It is indeed a welcome news to learn that at least there are few Christian Churches in North East which are deeply pained and concerned with the blatant mal-practices in various forms of corruption indulged by state governments, political parties and candidates before and during elections to the State Legislative Assemblies and Parliament. Prominent among them are the Nagaland Baptist Church Council (NBCC) Clean Election Movement and the Presbyterian Church Synod in Mizoram in conjunction with powerful Young Mizo Association. These Christian Churches have taken bold stance with concrete steps to help reduce considerably, if not root out completely, the evils in all forms of corrupt practices before and during elections in their respective states, with the sole aim of bringing in place clean, fair and just elections and governance both in Nagaland and Mizoram.
In Nagaland, the NBCC, through its “free and fair” Election movement which started in 1972 which was renomenclatured as “Clean Election Movement” in 2003 it forged ahead with the movement full vigour. NBCC has shouldered upon itself the social, moral and spiritual responsibility to witness Christ in politics by adhering and upholding the principle of truth, spiritual, moral and ethical values and by assisting people (voters) to adhere christian moral and ethical principles in preparations, processes and progress of voting. NBCC has Church Associations’ Units all over the state and each NBCC Association Unit is under a Secretary who is also its Convener and function independently to further the cause of clean elections movement. All Associations within their respective jurisdiction conduct mass awareness campaigns on free, fair and clean elections, trained workers and volunteers to carry forward the aims and objectives of clean elections-clean politics in every nook and corner within the church first.
But, when the right time came members have to engage in mass awareness campaigns to promote clean politics in elections among people (voters) in the villages and towns to play non-partisan role in politics, to influence the government and other agencies with strong moral principles which are bablically relevant and conducive for harmonious living. If any church leader, worker, member or church volunteer is found deviating/going contrary to the principles and guidelines of NBCC Clean Election Movement such members will face immediate suspension. The NBCC workers strongly emmphasized among people on the need to elect capable leaders who can manage state’s resources including those inflow from the centre, for the progress and posterity of the people of Nagaland, those who can represent the people with clear christian character, who are trustworthy has integrity, honesty, free from blames and corruption and above all God fearing.
The clean election movement of NBCC has tried its best to reach out to all Districts and villages of the state through its committed workers via mass awareness campaigns through publicity materials and by teachings through trained church workers and volunteers of the movement and at later stage, other fellow church denominations, Civil Societies and NGOs which have the same concern to root out corrupt practices in elections. This has boosted the NBCC movement through networking etc. In fact the NBCC Clean Election Movement has consciously worked for clean elections and clean governance which topped its agenda. It has widely published and circulated certain guidelines to all eligible voters / candidates in the state to remember and follow strictly. Some of the guidelines are : Abstain from indulging in feasts and partying organised by candidates and political parties : avoid soliciting, giving money, liquor, favours for your votes: avoid proxy voting : be ware of indulgence by church leaders : boldly speak against village/ khel / clan common candidates: buying and selling of votes is sinful : clean vote, clean process, clean governance, clean future : campaign against corruption and unfair means : challenge anomalies in Electoral Rolls : call common platforms for parties’ candidates : do not manipulate, misguide, intimidate, threaten other voters against their choice : delete double entries of voters :
do not declare your support to any candidate : demonstrate clean Christan character by upholding spiritual, moral, ethical principles and stand firm for the truth and condemn falsehood : be firm in your witness for Christ.
Election in Nagaland is perhaps the most expensive exercise in India Considering the geographical and demographic size of the state. Perhaps, the following figures of elections expenses may help the stakeholders like Political Parties – the NDPP, NPP, NPF, NPCC, BJP, AAP, JDU and RPP : the Candidates who have to spend money liberally, people of Nagaland in general and in particular the voters of the state to rethink deeply on the rationality of spending huge amount of money during elections. To understand better the gravity of the lavish mindless expenditure during elections in the state we bring in here the following few figures which will speak for themselves. In the general elections in 2008 in Nagaland the expenditure incurred by candidates and political parties was a whooping sum of Rs. 561.10 core, in 2013 it went up to Rs. 937.82 core and in 2018 it further shot up to Rs.1660.90 core. These figures were given by NBCC Clean Election Movement reportedly taken from YouthNet. Why this criminal waste of precious resources which should have been spent for the much required development of the state in critical sectors ?
In spite of all the hard work and bold initiatives taken by the NBCC and later on joined in by different Church denominations, Civil societies and some NGOs besides the watchful eyes of Election Commission of India to have free, fair and clean elections, yet the elections in Nagaland are not so free and fair because there are still many inhibitions, hiccups and stumbling blocks that stand in the way. Some of these as admitted openly by some important functionaries of NBCC, are clan, khel, village and community consensus candidates politics, money and muscle power which include intimidation tactics, proxy voting, bribing, demanding money from candidates etc. Now it is up-to the voters of Nagaland to decide once and for all: whether they still want to participate in the elections with all these inhibitions and deformities or to participate in the exercise freely and willingly without fear or favour dissatisfaction or ill feelings
On the contrary the elections in Mizoram are exceptionally free, fair and just as claimed by many sections in that state and outside including government authorities. Congratulations to the people of Mizoram especially, the Presbyterian Church, the Young Mizo Association and the Civil societies. How is this possible ? The answer is simple. Because free, fair and just elections (clean elections) has become a people’s movement : each voter has vouched to make each election clean because each one has understood his/her valuable sacred democratic right of franchise. This has come about as a result of many factors and it is too long a list to enumerate the factors in this limited space. But the major credit for clean elections in Mizoram is due to the hard and zealous works of the Mizoram Peoples’ Forum (MPF) which consists of the MUP, YMA, MHIP, YLA, MTP, MPC, R. C, ECI, ECM, LIKBK, Wesleyan Methodist and EFIT. It is indeed their commitment, dedication, unity, co-operation, co-ordination and understanding to ensure clean, fair, just, free and successful elections in Mizoram in the past and it will continue to be so even in future as long as the MPF exist.
However, specific mention must be made here, that the prime movers and the engine of the bold initiatives for free, fair and just ( clean elections or clean politics) in Mizoram definitely comes from the Presbyterian Church Synod and the Young Mizo Association. The rest of the NGOs and Civil Societies which together constitute the MPF, come later to form a powerful lobby to ensure smooth preparations, processes, participation and conduct of elections. The fact that each and every election in Mizoram is free, fair, just and clean from all sorts of fear and favours, evil designs and devices, corruption and corrupt practices is because of the ability to organise, guard, supervise, monitor and control by the MPF right through up-to the booth level. Another important aspect that must be prominently highlighted in connection with elections in Mizoram is the fact that all political parties, including Independents, and the MPF have to agree to work together and cooperate to ensure clean, free, fair and just elections by working and adhering to the rules and provisions laid down by the MPF to be signed by representatives of political parties, Independents (if there are any) and the representatives of MPF. This is called signing of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU). The signing of the MoU with all political parties applies not only for the Assembly elections but also for MP, District Council, Aizwal Municipal Corporation, Aizwal Local Council and even Village Council Elections.
It is of utmost importance to highlight some important points contained in the MoU prepared and laid down by the powerful body, the MPF. Some of which are taken from ECI strictures. Foremost is that each stakeholder involved in the election should ensure that it is clean, fair and just, each voter should cast his/her vote willingly, freely and no free transport from candidates or their agents is allowed to reach the polling booth. It asked candidates to strictly adhere to the ceiling of expenditure, no cash, no favours, no gifts in cash or kind to any individual or groups even teas and snacks are not allowed to be served during or after meetings: flags, posters, banners, badges are strictly regulated and fixed in size and number and places to be displayed. Strictly, the provisions in the MoU disallowed picnics, partying, borrowing or taking foodstuffs from shops during elections lest it leads to corrupt tactics played by candidates.
Once elections are declared by EC parties and candidates are not allowed to hold elections processions and rallies, even public election campaigns and common platforms are held and organised only under the guidance and supervision by the MPF members: even house to house canvassing can be held only with the supervision of members of MPF. Public entertainers are not allowed to campaign in elections : misuse of social media to spread false propaganda, misinformation, misrepresentation etc are banned and not permitted by MPF and also punishable by law. Besides, manifestoes, policy and programmes which are false and which cannot be fulfilled are totally banned even by ECI. On setting up of candidates by political parties the MPF is very strict by putting forward certain stringent conditions. Parties are pointedly asked not to set up people of disrepute, having infamous character and having adverse antecedents, having criminal records, infidelity backgrounds, unstable character, unsound mind, quarrelsome and other antisocial records in society. However, MPF values candidates which are law abiding, righteous, religious, educated and cooperative, with good reputation, blameless, trustworthy, capable and free from corruption.
Yes, it is a fact that the Election Commission of India conducts elections in Mizoram through the election machinery of the Mizoram state but the responsibility shouldered by the MPF to ensure clean, free, fair and just elections is indeed stupendously great and praise worthy through out. It has made the task of the ECI and the Mizoram state Election machinery very light and very easy. Actually it is the MPF that is running the whole show right from the time of announcement of the election schedules till the time of voting. In fact the whole elections processes and electioneering is closely monitored by MPF. Violation by any candidate or his election agent / canvassers of any rule and provision contained in the MoU agreed and signed by the parties involved invites strict action by MPF and unfair practice is declared publicly in the concerned constituency / constituencies wherever the violation or breach has occurred.
Lastly, let us come to Meghalaya which is not purely a Christian state but generally called so because majority of its population of about 76 per cent are Christians. Here, there are so many Christian denominations but the major christian denominations are the Catholics, the Presbyterians and the Baptists. So far the Christian church in Meghalaya as a whole, has not taken any definite and clear stance on having clean, free, fair and just elections just like that of Nagaland and Mizoram. Neither did it jointly or otherwise, issued any standing written instructions or notifications to that effect (i.e to ensure clean, free, fair and just elections and politics) to the Christian faithfuls to follow and practise accordingly. Once in a blue moon a loose entity by the name Khasi-Jaintia Church Leaders Forum appeared in the scene from nowhere appealing political parties of Meghalaya to reign on their elected legislators to restrain corruption and ensure probity in public life. Once or twice during last 50 years this Forum has appealed the public of Meghalaya through media to elect capable and god fearing public representatives to the Meghalaya Legislative Assembly. That is all from the Christian Church as a whole. What each christian denomination did in their church units with regard to clean elections and clean politics is not known since nothing has come out so far in the open till this day. What all eligible christians voters in Meghalaya know, like non-christian voters do, is to obediently exercise their right to franchise on polling day notified by the ECI. On malpractices, corruption and corrupt practices before and during elections to Parliament, State Assembly and District Councils, Meghalaya is not at all free from these evils, but certainly nowhere near the scale of Nagaland. But regarding voting on polling days it has been found over the years that they are certainly free and to a large extend fair and peaceful. However, the diabolical tactics and corrupt practices indulged by political parties, candidates their sponsors, financiers and agents are rampant. Favours, gifts and money are still very attractive to voters for exchange for votes and at times even enblock voters are won over by such baits. Religion is still a factor at play even today during choice for candidates at party levels and during casting of votes. The major reason as to why clean, transparent and accountable governance is absent in the state and also why high prevalent of mal-practices and corruption before and during elections is because the Christian churches here are afraid to come out openly and take head on against the government and its agencies to speak out and condemn openly against corruption and various evils which are connected with it. The same thing happened with elections, the Christian churches sit back and stay in their own comfort zones and just watch the drama from afar. This indifference embolden the perpetrators of the wrongs and evil doers both in times of elections and in times of governance. The worst worry and fear for the foreseeing and well meaning people of Meghalaya is to act and pray that the Legislative Assembly will never be filled up and dominated by beureacrat-business class nexus turned politicians as you can very well imagine what the future will hold for the 36 lakh ambitious people of the state if such a thing happens.
Philip Marwein,
Sr. Journalist, Meghalaya.

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