Mizoram Assembly polls: Phones of observers lying unused on voting day shows how state adheres to electoral code of conduct
A year before any election, the church assumes the role of a political preacher and explains to the religiously-inclined Mizos the value of a single vote and the importance to elect the most eligible candidates.
On 28 November, senior bureaucrat and a veteran election observer Vinayak Azad wouldn’t have expected anything different in Aizawl, Mizoram’s picturesque capital.
Azad is used to a one-room office overflowing with a sheaf of papers, outlining the Election Commission’s basic standard operating procedures to conduct free and fair polls. And the ubiquitous phone — perched on the corner of the glass-top table — that would ring loudly incessantly, registering complaints about poll anomalies. Mizoram stood out as an exception to the prevailing electoral pattern in the rest of the country. Azad’s phone didn’t even ring once on the polling day on 28 November.
“In my long career of observing elections, no state can quite match up to the ‘clean and high’ standards set by Mizoram. There is no noise, no unruly behaviour and no bursting of firecrackers. Everyone stood in a queue and voted. A section among the jovial crowd sang carols as Christmas is barely a few weeks away as the security personnel lazed around with a bored look.
"The Mizo voters were grace personified, although grace is the last thing that one would associate with conducting elections in India,” says Azad. “Of course, there is still room for some improvement, but this is as good as it gets,” he hastens to add as a second thought.
Armstrong Pame, an Indian Administrative Service official and the recipient of India’s Most Eminent IAS Officer Award in 2015, posted on Facebook: “As an observer I was allotted a separate phone number and (it) was promoted widely for any complaint related to the election… Believe me or not, I didn’t receive a single call!!”
On his unique experience, the IAS official writes: “Some of the things, which I believe that set Mizoram apart from the rest of the states in our country and especially the north-east, are:
"Mizoram is the only state where many candidates complained about the limit of expenditure for election being set so high at Rs 30 lakh. Many candidates couldn’t find a way to even spend Rs 10 lakh.
"A supporter or a candidate can’t campaign alone to any village. The candidate has been accompanied by a church-appointed member. So disciplined! You got to follow the rules to play the game of election!
"To my surprise, no party office was seen hosting a feast for voters on the polling day… In fact, no one wants to be seen even drinking tea at a party office.”
Azad explains how Mizoram is a glorious electoral exception.
“The Mizos are a very integrated and homogenous community. Everyone knows everyone. Besides, the role of the church and the civic society hold the key as their directives are followed by the voters to the T,” he reasons.
Civic society in Mizoram comprises largely the Presbyterian Church and the Young Mizo Association (YMA). A year before any election, the church assumes the role of a political preacher. It preaches the value of a single vote to the religiously-inclined Mizos and the importance to elect the most eligible candidates.
A makeshift entity, Mizo Peoples’ Forum (MPF), which have representations from the church and the civic society, is set up in the run-up to an election. Public announcements are made periodically through the 'Tlangau' (‘Tlang’ is Hill, ‘au’ is to shout out) and public address systems.
“We never tell the voters, which party to vote for as we’re a non-political entity. All we tell them is to vote responsibly and watch out for unwanted activities,” says Reverend Lalbiakmawai, MPF general secretary.
With every voter convinced of the power of her/his own vote, 80 percent of Mizos turned up to exercise their franchise on 28 November, a tad less than the 83 percent in 2013. The rest of India would do well to take a leaf out of Mizoram’s election book. As Pamei wistfully writes: “… how I wish this can be replicated across the country.”
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