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Nagaland polls: In one of India’s poorest states, a vote is being ‘bought’ for Rs 50,000

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Former CM Neiphiu Rio is among the top three richest candidates; voters in Mon district are allegedly being offered Rs 50,000 each.

Dimapur: Akavi N. Zhimomi, an Aam Aadmi Party candidate contesting the 27 February Nagaland election, would surely find himself the odd man out these days. He is the only candidate with zero declared assets in Nagaland, known for its ‘crorepati’ politicians whose numbers are only rising.

Of the 193 candidates analysed by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), 114 (59 per cent) have declared assets in crores, which is quite a significant number for a small state like Nagaland.

Crorepati candidates on the rise 

According to the ADR report, the top three crorepatis are: Ramongo Lotha (Rs 38.92 crore) of JD(U), K.L.Chishi (Rs 38.2 crore) of the BJP and former CM Neiphiu Rio (Rs 36.41 crore), who has recently floated his Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party.

A state with a population of just 20 lakh, Nagaland has seen a steady rise in the number of rich candidates and winners in the past decade.

While only 27 per cent of the candidates were crorepatis in 2008, 40 per cent of the winners had declared assets worth crores of rupees. In 2013, 45 per cent of the candidates filed affidavits declaring assets totalling almost Rs 300 crore. Among the winning candidates or sitting MLAs, 62 per cent were self-declared crorepatis.

Nagaland is among the poorest states in terms of per capita income (at 2011-12 prices), according to data from the Central Statistical Organisation. However, most of the state’s tribal residents are exempt from paying income tax under Section 10(26) of the Income Tax Act.

‘Cash for vote’ goes up to Rs 50,000

Civil society organisations admit that elections in Nagaland have become a money festival. And this trend is getting worse despite efforts by the Election Commission and the likes of Nagaland Baptist Church Council to clean the system.

Sources told ThePrint that voters are being offered two times the amount from the last elections.

“In Mon, a candidate from National Democratic Progressive Party was distributing Rs 30,000 to each voter,” said a source.

“To trump that, another candidate offered Rs 50,000 for a single vote. Mostly, these amounts are offered to the youth,” the source added.

Nesucho Keyho, a former member of the ruling Naga People’s Front (NPF), alleges that in Phek district, candidates have themselves violated what he calls the ‘moral code of conduct’.

“An NPF candidate started distributing Rs 3,000 per vote from 27 January onward. He was also the first to file nomination despite the poll boycott call by tribal bodies,” Keyho said.

Lone warriors

Despite the large-scale use of money in the elections, ‘Clean Vote Clean Future’ campaign, a civil society initiative, is gaining some traction. Candidates from AAP, BJP, Congress as well as some independent aspirants attended a town hall in Diphupar village Tuesday.

“Even if voters asked me, I don’t have any money to offer,” Akavi said showing his wallet containing Rs 70 at the event.

Taking a dig at corrupt politicians, Akavi said, “These MLAs are wasting crores of your money and where? In Kaziranga!” to rousing laughter and applause.

The 27-year-old AAP candidate says he wants to set an example in Nagaland that one can contest elections without “investing” money.

“I’m getting calls every day from people who say that they have reserved their votes for me,” Akavi told ThePrint. “One Naga person in Bengaluru says he will vote for me and convinced his wife not to take money but vote for me.”

Acknowledging the need for an early resolution to the Naga political problem, Akavi said development is what Nagaland is badly lacking in.

“Our people are dying of hunger. Women are delivering on the road; our youth is frustrated and not getting any opportunities,” he said, stressing the need for speedy development in the state.

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