Almost everything about elections is dubious these days. Even the Election Commission of India, the institution responsible for superintending and directing, controlling and conducting elections is not spared. Just recently, questions were raised regarding the EC’s effectiveness in the Supreme Court as it was hearing a number of petitions proposing a different system of appointment for the Chief Election Commissioner and the two election commissioners. At present they are appointed by the Prime Minister advised by the council of ministers. With the EC appearing to become less effective in addressing breaches of the Model Code of Conduct and other violations relating to electoral practices, this system is being criticised as lacking in impartiality and apolitical balance. On January 18, while announcing the schedule of general elections to the Legislative Assemblies of Meghalaya, Nagaland and Tripura, the Election Commission of India (ECI) pronounced that it is committed to conduct free, fair, participative, accessible, inclusive and safe elections. Time will tell how far those commitments will be truly maintained.
In Nagaland, the manner in which elections are conducted is everybody’s guess. All the proscribed electoral practices in the book are practiced here, yet, seldom are the wrongdoers prosecuted. The EC is touting the ensuing general elections as the “festival of democracy” and it is feared that the ensuing election will be a “festival” as usual in Nagaland. There is going to be a lot of “festive” spending in all likelihood. While there is no report of any candidate exceeding the permitted election expenditure of Rs 20 lakhs in Nagaland ever, it goes without saying that that is one big lie. We are just beginning to return back to work after the last festive season but it looks like the “festival” just got extended.
According to a post-election watch report released by YouthNet, perhaps the only independent report on the matter, the 196 candidates who contested the Nagaland Assembly elections in February that year spent a whopping Rs 1061 crore (approx), which comes to over Rs 5 crore each per candidate. It was also reported that the highest average spent per household was Rs 75,000 while the overall average cost per vote was Rs 5000 to Rs 10,000.
The highest-spending candidate was from Zunheboto district with around Rs 30 crore followed by a candidate from Mokokchung district with Rs 27 crore while a candidate from Dimapur district spent Rs 23 crore. The report said Zunheboto district was the highest-spending district with Rs 236.20 crore followed by Mokokchung district with Rs 191.90 crore. Dimapur was the third highest-spending district with Rs 132.80 crore. Of course, the statistics were an estimate of expenditures incurred and it cannot be said to be the cohesive conclusion but they may be the nearest amount spent. Moreover, there have been no counterclaims against the report till date.
From spending Rs 570 crore in 2008 elections to Rs 937 crores in the 2013 elections and further increasing to Rs 1061 crore in 2018, elections have been quite literally a festival in Nagaland. Once again, the elections are here and it looks as certain as ever that the election spending by candidates will keep increasing. Christian-majority state or not, Hindu oriented party or not, money has no religion. As Voltaire said, when it is a question of money, everybody is of the same religion.