How Nagaland Got Together To Clean Up Its Elections, American Style

As any election approaches, jingles and slogans from different political parties fight a pitched battle, both online and offline. When Nagaland goes to polls tomorrow, however, it is not just the campaigns of different political parties that will decide how electors vote. There has been another campaign this election, and by all accounts it has been a successful one.

Take for instance a set of YouTube videos that are going viral in the state. Brainchild of Dreamz Unlimited, a theatre and film production company, the videos focus on electoral corruption. The three videos by the company have been viewed by close to 3,00,000 people over this month.

Bribing voters has long been a problem obstructing free and fair elections in the state. This time, reports say, the problem has been curbed to a significant degree. And the campaign that sought to end this problem has brought with it another welcome change, a debate between different candidates on a common stage, fashioned in the style of presidential debates in the US.

How Does This Debate Work?

Called ‘Common Platform’, the exercise involved all candidates of a constituency. They shared the same stage and made speeches to woo the voter. The speeches were made within a time limit.

Questions and interjections from fellow speakers wasn’t an option this time, as the organisers wanted “to be careful that something doesn’t go wrong”. However, organisers of the exercise asked voters to document poll promises being made during the speeches.

“One way to break the cycle of money is for candidates to make promises, and for there to be witnesses across the board. We are urging people to document what is being said and later go back and verify what has come of these promises,” Hekani Jakhalu, the founder of the NGO Youthnet, told The Indian Express. It is Youthnet’s studies on election spending that is said to have spurred many to work for clean elections.

Who Started This And When?

‘Common Platform’ is one of the multiple ways in which the ‘Clean Election Campaign’ is being run in the state. The campaign was started by the Nagaland Baptist Church Council in 2012 to fight electoral corruption before the 2013 assembly elections. According to a Scroll.in report, however, this campaign in itself might have been a result of a social media campaign asking for fair elections.

It is only this time that the campaign has spread far and wide in the state, with the elections closer and the campaign new the last time. According to a report in The Indian Express, most constituencies have held at least one such debate this year.

The preparation started way back in 2016, when meetings were held in every constituency to organise the exercise. By now student bodies, the local Church, and civil society organisations have all become involved in the process. The result is that the debate is attended by most candidates.

What’s The Impact?

With the speeches focussed on policies, the discussion among voters too seems to have changed this time. “Normally, during election time, we talk about how no government has done anything, who the village council had backed, and how much money each candidate was offering irrespective of whether we take it or not. But this time, for days after the Common Platform, we talked about that as well. For the first time, we saw all the candidates together, and everyone has a different opinion on who we liked or who’s message was the best,” Nicholas Angami, a voter from the Western Angami constituency, told The Indian Express.

MLAs too feel that the exercise is going to have an impact on how people vote. They, however, feel that a complete change will take some more time. Mhonlumo Kikon, a BJP MLA, told The Indian Express, for example, told IE that the process will have more impact on the educated, urban youth than on the rural population. “At the moment, in most constituencies, it will only perhaps sway 3 to 5 percent of the population,” he said.

The ‘Clean Election Campaign’ too has in itself brought change, voters believe. “Last year it was open: Rs 4,000-5,000 per vote in my village. But this time it’s not happening. Yes, of course, some young men must have got Rs 2,000-3,000 for haat-kharcha (spending money), but it is not en masse and organised like before,” Fizu Langthasa, a village headman from Dimapur-3 constituency, told Scroll.in.

The only bone of contention is that although the Nagaland Baptist Church Council has formally stated that this campaign is apolitical and that “the church is not into playing politics”, not everybody believes so. The reason is that the NBCC leaders issued statements against the BJP just two weeks before the elections. “The church itself is asking people to not vote for a certain political party. How is it then a clean election?” a Dimapur journalist told Scroll.in.

Nonetheless, a movement taking voters away from electoral corruption doesn’t seem impossible anymore in the state.

Featured image source: YouTube
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