The results of the recent Assembly Elections in Manipur have caused a huge surprise and an intense introspection among the educated class irrespective of age. While the results have been the real world experience, the educated and intellectual class are now searching for the “corresponding type of mind” and the factors that have caused this emergence of unexpected results.
Elections, as a mechanism in a democracy, are phenomena that have the potentiality for deep and wide differential dynamics within a short period. The period before the recent elections and the voting days were marked by unprecedented violence in Manipur. There are three things here. First, the members of the BJP, as members of the ruling party ipso facto, had no hesitation in using languages of threat and did follow them up with damages to both life and property. Second, in most instances, the victims of these violence were members and supporters of political parties which had robust candidates vis-à-vis the BJP candidates in the constituencies where violence was prominent. Third, by delaying the presentation of the Manifesto of the Party, BJP avoided the potential for general public debates and evaluations on their performance and commitment either as a Political Party or as a Government headed by the party.
The prevalence of widespread poverty makes it convenient for the powers that be to adopt momentary social bribery as a means to become winners in a key democratic process.
In the background of this unprecedented use of threat and violence as mechanism to influence the electoral outcomes, the informed and educated voters by and large were very sceptical of the ability of BJP to return to power again. The most dominant prediction was of a Hung Assembly wherein the BJP might win 15 at most out of the 60 seats. But today the BJP could score 32 out of 62 and thereby reaching the absolute majority mark.
This absolute negation of the expectations of the educated and informed elite is what has stirred the minds of these people as to what has influenced the minds of the general voters. Here, on hindsight, it becomes clear today that the influential dynamics had worked only within the last five days or so before the two scheduled dates of voting. To begin with, the BJP must have realised that the educated elite were largely disfavouring them. It is now established that they were avoiding any kind of trucks with this group and concentrating on the remaining segments of the electorate.
It here that three groups are paramount and can easily swing the votes in their favour.
- First, the poor households constitute almost about 80 per cent of the total electorate. Of the remaining 20 per cent, only about 10 per cent are decisive and 10 per cent non-committal (thus can be subject to influencers).
- Second, there is – as expected in context of mass unemployment and arguably zero creation of new employment opportunities – a large proportion of youths who can be easily subject to arousal with violent feelings.
- Third, sustenance of violence does cause a kind of submission and admiration to the vulnerable sections of the population.
This is where we can look at the prevalence of poverty and its further complication by the presence of the Pandemic. Poverty in any context is never an enviable situation for any family. The situation is further aggravated by the absence of earning opportunities, which is contextually coupled by another absence of equalisation of opportunities due to the presence of corruption. This makes the revelation of preferences in voting exercises of the poor easily susceptible to the momentary charms offered by the powers that be.
The Pandemic of the last two years has definitely deepened and widened the daily existence challenges of food and health of these poor households. While their capability to face life challenges is already low, the Pandemic has almost made it non-existent. This is where the convenience of being in the powers that be arises – the 80 per cent of the electorate can be easily lured by momentary extension of needed reliefs; anyway the poor live life only momentarily. Thus the coupling of poverty by the Pandemic creates a brilliant atmosphere for any political party to move for purchase of preferences of the poor. The political party that can pay the highest amount to the “majority” 80 per cent of the voters would definitely enjoy the preferences of the electorate when the Electoral Process gets completed.
Thus the three factors that have been the determinants of the recent electoral process for the State Assembly in Manipur are Poverty, Pandemic and hidden market process of Purchase. While Constitution may mention Equality, the prevalence of widespread poverty makes it convenient for the powers that be to adopt momentary social bribery as a means to become winners in a key democratic process. So it is in the interest of the powers that be and wannabe powers to be that Poverty should prevail. If this poverty is also coupled by something like the Pandemic to make the poor much more absolutely desperate, the powers that be and wannabe powers to be cannot ask for a more congenial atmosphere to indulge in social bribery. This is the context any poor would be marketing whatever they are willing and including the rare voting right. Thus the market for the Purchase of votes spontaneously gets created. The highest bidder (here bidder means actual transactions taking place) gets the prize of Votes.
Thus the lessons of the recent election outcomes in Manipur are: A. Poverty should be “sustained” for election interests; and B. There is nothing to worry about the character and quality of governance if the powers that be can sustain the prevalence of poverty. The issues of Democracy can be discussed in a seminar funded by the government that ultimately gets constituted.
Prof Amar Yumnam is Professor of Economics and Former VC at Manipur University, India