Manipur Elections 2017: Changing character of discourse
By Amar Yumnam
The First Phase of the Assembly Elections in Manipur has just been completed. The remaining constituencies in the mountain areas of Manipur would be having the last round of Elections in just three days. It is expected that the high percentage of participation by the electorate in the valley would as well be repeated in the mountains. The high poll rate implies at least two significant developments. First, the youths are taking interests in the Elections and the outcomes of the electoral process. Second, the hold of the insurgent forces is taking a turn for larger participation in the democratic processes of India; youths are now more allured by the constitutional processes than by otherwise. In other words, endeavouring to influence the outcomes of state action through participation in the electoral processes is now a live approach. Further, I feel it is most likely that the significantly robust rate of polling in the valley would as well be repeated in the mountains. One of the reasons for this has been the presence of a kind of jurisdictional competition over people and resources in recent years.
On top of these, the most interesting and significant aspect in the present electoral process is the process of transformation taking shape in the discourse for mobilisation for supports. This is salient in (a) the way people talk about the elections and the political parties, (b) the way the parties use language, (c) the way the contents are focused, (d) the way the earlier conflicting issues are getting converged.
In the earlier elections, the social issues disappeared as the dates of Elections were getting closer, but this time round it has been different. The various civil society organisations have been continuously active in highlighting the lapses, excesses and failures of the governance in areas of deep concern to the people of Manipur. The emergence of the political party led by Sharmila has also had positive externalities in sustaining the deep concerns of the people of Manipur consequent upon lived experiences in recent decades. This is despite the attempts howsoever by the major political contenders; the issues have somehow hit the core of heart and mind of the people of Manipur. One can ignore the Sharmila-led political party but the issues raised by it cannot be undermined. So in this round of the Assembly Elections we see the social issues continuously present and converging, if not fully, with the electoral process. This is how the people talk about the Elections and the political parties this time. I understand that many of my friends still emphasise the old niche that persons matter and not the individuals in the Elections in Manipur. This is true in some cases, but unlike before this has not been the whole truth, not even the larger truth, this time. The clear emergence of two strong contending parties is testimony to this.
Here I would just like to refer to the Afrobarometer Survey of 2015 wherein 78 percent of the Nigerians expressed that their government is “doing badly in fighting corruption”. Something like this seems to be happening in Manipur as well. After leading the fight on some rounds, the attempted defence by the present government on charges of corruption just became a matter of public ridicule. This instead and coupled by the various propaganda of the civil society organisations rather helped in keeping the issues of drug trafficking, fake encounters and inhuman laws besides the public assertion of prevalence of socially debilitating corruption alive. The emergence of social media and the easy convergence between youthful behaviour and social media have certainly added strength to the unfolding dynamics.
Further the so-called blame-game between the State Government and the Central Government in so far as lifting the Economic Blockade being faced by Manipur has been of a qualitatively different one from the earlier tussles between the two layers of governance. Both sides have avoided to be rude. The Central Government has been continuously resorting to the Constitutional argument of federalism. The State government has resorted to the age-old argument of the Centre neglecting the region, but this time in an unusual area of sending security personnel to the rescue of the State. Militarisation was the public complaint and inadequate funds the provincial government’s cry so far, but today we have the State Government complaining that not enough security personnel has been provided.
In the earlier Elections, the mass media, both print and electronic, were exploited mainly for small time mobilisation. But in the current round, the manner and the contents have been very different. The languages focus on the issues confronting the region and the character of governance. In this the BJP has been much more structurally organised and focused. The Congress tries to respond to this media onslaught but the outputs seem half-cooked.
The most interestingly significant characteristic underlying in all these processes is the convergence of the issues of federalism, nationalism and nation-state. Federalism issues are being raised emphasising indigenous nationalism and the anti-state articulations are being replaced by a subtle demand for review of orientation of state.
Well, whichever Party and coalition comes to power, the next government cannot afford to function and behave the way it has been the last few years. People can now appreciate the character of governance and do want change.