The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Come elections and Indian politicians will do anything to harvest votes. They would devise their own ways of circumventing the guidelines set by the Election Commission. Different Christian organizations in the Northeast have long evolved their own codes of poll conduct to compliment the commissionís directives. In that sense, there is nothing new to the poll commandments issued by the Mizoram Presbyterian Synod, the largest Christian congregation in the state that goes to the polls later this month. Only two of its commandments have religious overtones, while the rest are common enough attempts to control the use of money-power in the elections. But even the synodís insistence on piety among candidates and its ban on ďmass feastingĒ during the campaign have their own messages for a predominantly Christian population. The practice of mass feasting is clearly an attempt to use a religious ritual for political gains. In their zeal to compete with each other, the parties make the mass feasts elaborate affairs whose expenses mock the limits set by the EC. Since this particular device to influence the voters is closely linked to religious sentiments, the churchís intervention can help restrain the candidates and curb the role of money in the polls. The synodís other warning ó against exploiting children for the campaign ó is especially welcome because power-hungry politicians think nothing of resorting to even such cruel methods.

But the good Word alone has never changed a bad world. The church in Mizoram played a crucial role in mediating for peace during the stateís long and unhappy tryst with insurgency. In neighbouring Nagaland, the Baptist Church is still playing such a role and doing its bit in trying to persuade rebel groups to talk peace with the government. It cannot be denied, however, that electoral politics has taken its toll on these two states as much as in the rest of the country. The Mizo synodís directives are an admission of the fact that the malaise has spread to the state and hence the need for its intervention. But it would be unfair to dismiss the exercise as ineffective and largely theoretical. In fact, the synodís code can have a wider significance for the electoral system as a whole. The significance lies in the message that social, religious and other community groups can act as important pressure groups to discipline erring politicians. The ECís guidelines are legal and are therefore usually implemented rather mechanically. But a communityís own attempts to cleanse politics can have a more direct bearing on both politicians and the common people. If it makes even a small difference, the synodís poll gospel will prove that religion can also do some good to politics.

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