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 Democracy
 
Mizoram: Politics and Religion mix to ensure free election
Liberty Institute, India Friday, November 22, 2013

Abhijit Deb
In the poll bound Mizoram, a predominantly Christian state, it’s like the rule of trinity during election. The church, powerful student NGO and, the election commission all working in tandem to make election process a truly a democratic exercise. Abhjit Deb looks at the election environment in Mizoram.

Mizoram Fact file:
Total Voters: 6.86 lakh
Female: 3.5 lakh
Total polling stations 1126
Sensitive polling stations: 94

Religion and politics travel in the same cart in Mizoram to strengthen the electoral process

Aizwal: In tiny hilly poll bound state of North East India Mizoram religion and politics are travelling in the same cart for a better purpose to make election free and fair.

In the Christian dominated state of Mizoram, bordering Myanmar, it’s like the rule of trinity during election. The church, powerful student NGO and, the election commission all working in tandem to make election process a truly a democratic exercise.

It could be an example of one of the most powerful democratic social structure wherein apart from Election Commission guidelines, political parties and candidates have to adhere by the strict rules set by influential youth body of the state Young Mizo Association, and the church body Mizoram People’ Forum.

The guidelines by the church body meant that the political parties in state campaigning for the assembly elections have not only to follow the election commission’s code of conduct, but they also have another institution looming over them which they can’t afford to ignore.

Demonstrating their central role in Mizo life, the churches had appealed to the election commission to change the voting and counting schedule. Mizoram Synod had scheduled to hold its statewide conference on the earlier polling date of December 4.

In fact, parties need permission from the MPF to organize political rallies. There are also instructions that election manifestos should have practical promises rather than hot air.

Moreover, for candidates who are in the fray it’s like double edged sword. The Young Mizo Association has its offices spread across all the villages across the state to oversee the campaigning process and to check whether or not parties or candidate indulges in any malpractices during elections.
The association also tries to provide level playing field to all the candidates during election campaigning.

In fact, besides YMA,  the  Mizoram synod of the Presbyterian Church of India has a very influential role as a moral force in the highly religious state, where Christians are a majority.

So strong is the all-pervasive control of the synod on the state, which will elect a 40-member Assembly on November 25,  the forum  forum has warned that if any political party violates any of the 27 rules, they will risk being “invalidated.” The EC is supportive of the forum.

Asked about the pro-active role of the church body, Mizoram’s chief electoral officer Ashwani Kumar said in Aizawl, “The Election Commission’s and the MPF’s aims are similar — to ensure free and fair elections.”

In fact, church leaders played a critical role in getting insurgency ridden state back on a democratic set up which is now the most peaceful state in North East India.

It may be mentioned here that rebel turned politician and first chief minister of Mizoram ,Pu Laldenga was persuaded by the church leader to shun the path of violence and come back to the mainstream.

So with active support of church Mizo accord was signed with MNF in 1986 by late Rajiv Gandhi which paved the way for peace in the state.

Even since the formation of the state, church continued to play a role of guardian and have a major influence in Mizo life. “In every aspect of Mizo society, church play a vital role. Mizo’s has a chequered history with bouts of insurgency. And they believe that church bodies in the state played a critical role to get the state back on track on path of peace. So naturally, church body alongwith Young Mizo Association during elections becomes much more active politically, “ Sanat Chakraborty, a well known political commentator from the north eastern region said.

In fact, politicians in Mizoram start their campaign swearing by the name of Jesus.  Church also works in close coordination with YMA during elections to put a check on use of money and muscle power in politics.

It was the lavish spending during the 2003 Assembly elections that led the Church to consider active intervention to “reform”  the electoral process.
 
But, the MPF came into force only in 2006, with the 2008 Assembly elections being its first test case when it issued election “guidelines” to be followed by the candidates.

The MPF also signed a memorandum of understanding with political parties about two months ago.

The political parties who agreed to cooperate with the MPF include the Congress, Zoram National Party, Mizo National Front, Mizo Peoples Convention and the BJP.

One of election guidelines is to decrease expenditure -- and towards that end the forum has even asked the parties not to set up campaign offices.

Another rule advises political parties to compile an election manifesto, which can be implemented, instead of making empty promises.

If any political party violates any of the 27 rules, the MPF will declare it ‘invalid’.

In fact the drive for clean and clear electoral process in the state also got a boost when Mizoram became the first state in the country to have completed the issuing of photo identity cards to the voters.

Another first in election history is that the commission opened its doors to civil society organisations in its poll preparedness review meetings.

In fact the state election officials have been instructed to work in tandem with them. “In fact, Mizoram’s electoral track record is the envy of every other state and we put our appreciation for the organisations here for showing their strong belief in free, fair and peaceful elections.”

Mizoram will also pioneer the use of voters verifiable paper audit trail in electronic voting machines in the polls, said Sampath. It will be used in 10 Assembly consti-tuencies in Aizawl’s urban areas.

To facilitate busy candidates, returning officers are authorised to be the single-window clearance cell for granting permissions to hold rallies and other election-related functions, the commission said. The candidates should receive replies within 24 hours, he said.

This article was published in the Liberty Institute on Friday, November 22, 2013.
Author : Mr Deb is a journalist based in Shillong, in the North Eastern state of Meghalaya.
Tags- Find more articles on - Mizoram | Mizoram assembly election | Mizoram vidhan Sabha

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