Is ‘money power’ threatening fair, transparent election process in Meghalaya?

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Shillong, Jan 27: As a group of young men and women huddled together in a popular café in Shillong, the capital city of Meghalaya, for their evening cup of tea along with some appetizers, their discussion automatically veers towards the upcoming Assembly elections in the state on Friday evening.

After all, the elections are around the corner. The state is going to vote for the 60-member Meghalaya Assembly on February 27. Along with Meghalaya, two other states in the Northeast India too are going for polls.

money

While the Assembly elections in Tripura are scheduled on February 18, Nagaland is voting with Meghalaya on February 27. The counting of votes in all the three states will take place on March 3.

The youngsters of the picturesque state, which of late has seen haphazard development, are a concerned lot. Meghalaya is riddled with problems, feel most of the youngsters. From lack of infrastructure in government schools to unmotorable roads, Meghalaya suffers from similar issues plaguing the rest of the country.

But what worries these college-goers the most is the dominance of "money power" during the election times.

Just a few days before the Election Commission (EC) announced the poll date for the state, report stated that several women in the state received a sum of Rs 5,000 in cheques as seed money to empower them through a financial inclusion scheme.

Several opposition parties including the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the National People's Party (NPP) questioned the timing of the grant given to women by the ruling Congress.

"This is highly improper. The Congress did nothing for Meghalaya in the past five years. Now, they are trying to woo voters with money. People are not fools," Meghalaya BJP chief Shibun Lyngdoh was quoted as saying by Hindustan Times.

The Congress rubbished the allegations labelled against it. Officials stated that the cheques were distributed as a part of ongoing schemes for women's empowerment.

In fact, the cash flow in the northeastern state has come under the radar of the EC.  The Meghalaya Election office has asked all the banks in the State to monitor and submit reports on "unusual" and "suspicious" cash transactions exceeding Rs 1 lakh by candidates and their spouse to check cash flow in the February 27 poll.

Direction in this regard was given after a meeting held by state Chief Electoral Officer FR Kharkongor with banks operating in Meghalaya. Besides, the banks have also been instructed to open dedicated counters for election purpose to facilitate prompt service to the candidates in opening of bank accounts and will be allowed for withdrawals and deposits on priority.

"There is also a standing provision if withdrawal is more than Rs 10 lakh, such information should be passed on to the nodal officer of the income tax department for taking necessary actions under the income tax laws," he said.

Kharkongor further said district election officers (DEOs) have also activated 180 flying squads who will be acting on tip offs on the movement of cash and take necessary actions.

He also said that the EC will also be deploying Expenditure Observers in all the 60 constituencies. "They will be deployed in expenditure sensitive areas," he added.

Reacting to a query, the CEO said that money above Rs 50,000 will be seized and the person from whom it is found will be called for explanation.

Residents of the state admit that political parties do distribute money and booze among voters before elections. "This is an open secret. Political parties give money, booze and gifts to people to buy their votes.

"Both the political parties and voters are to be blamed for rampant distribution of money and gifts before elections. Money power is the biggest malice killing the whole democratic process of elections," said a youth from Shillong.

He added that officials of the EC should take adequate measures to check distribution of money during the election times.

"We hope the steps taken by the EC will help restrict rampant distribution of money, this time," said another youth from Shillong.

Meghalaya Assembly
Party 2013 Current Standing  
CONG 29 24 Election Date : Feb 27 2018
Counting : Mar 03 2018
IND 13 09
UDP 08 07
HSPDP 04 04
NPP 02 02
NCP 02 02
BJP 00 02
GNC 01 00
NESDP 01 01
OTHERS 00 00
Total 60 51 (9 Vacant)

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