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Money power not sole prerogative of ’national parties’

POSTED ON 23 FEBRUARY 2013

wasbir Hussain
Executive director,
centre for development and peace studies

Nagaland Home Minister Imkong L. Imchen’s arrest on 18 February 2013 on charges of carrying a whopping Rs 1.1 crore in cash and an assortment of illegal weapons has proved that money power during election time is not the sole prerogative of big ‘national parties’. Imchen after all belongs to the regional Nagaland People’s Front (NPF) that is threatening a hat–trick in the State, hoping to return to power for the third time in a row under the leadership of Neiphui Rio, the Chief Minister.

This is indeed something that is not expected—Imchen is the Home Minister and has been charged with carrying illegal arms with rounds of ammunition. He is in any case entitled to armed personal security guards and therefore there is hardly any convincing explanation as to why he was carrying the arms cache in his vehicle or the five–vehicle convoy. And yes, there was an Election Commission limit that says no one was allowed to carry more than Rs 50,000 in cash during the poll process. That he was arrested by personnel of the Assam Rifles in Wokha district on the eve of the State Assembly polls raises the question as to whether the money (money power) and the arms (muscle power) would have been used during the polls (voting day) or were meant for any other use.

The episode would not have hogged media limelight so much had the person in question not been Nagaland’s Home Minister. It had sullied the NPF’s image ahead of the polls and at a time when the party was hoping to romp home to victory for the third consecutive time. Imchen did resign within 24 hours of his arrest, claiming the money belonged to his party. But what’s going on really? On 16 February 2013, election squads seized Rs one crore in cash from NPF candidate Nyemli Phom after his helicopter allegedly landed without prior permission at an Assam Rifles helipad in Longleng district. He too reportedly claimed later that the money belonged to his party.

This is not all. According to media reports, an amount of Rs 47 lakh was seized from an agent of T. R. Zeliang, the NPF candidate from Peren Assembly seat. On Tuesday, Assam Police arrested five youths from Deberapar in Assam’s Jorhat district for carrying illegal arms. One of them is the son of a former minister in the Rio Cabinet.

Usually, in states like Nagaland, elections have been held under the shadow of the insurgents’ gun. This time round, with the key insurgent factions engaged in peace talks with New Delhi, and the level of militant violence having come down drastically, Nagaland seems to be witnessing a new low in election winning tactics by the parties and candidates. The recovery of locally prepared bombs and arms by the police in Tuli sub–division in Mokokchung district on February 15 is just an indication of the situation on the ground. At least, one had not heard of locally prepared bombs being recovered or used anywhere in Nagaland all these years. This can mean that parties and candidates could be trying to win by any means and this is disturbing.

The man in question, Imchen, has since resigned from the Rio cabinet. The question now in everybody’s mind is this—will the Election Commission be able to take appropriate action and disqualify him from contesting the polls? The opposition Congress party, that has got a big issue on a platter with which to hammer the NPF, has already sought Imchen’s disqualification in pleas before the EC. The incident happened so late in the day, and so close to voting day (February 23), that the NPF hardly had time for damage control. The moral of the story is simple—money power is a deep malaise in Indian elections and small regional parties are not immune to it but very much a part of the system. (courtesy: The Sentinel)