The Election Commission (EC) has capped the expenditure per candidate at Rs 20 lakh. This, going by the budget of Manipur’s newest party, is more than enough to fund the campaign of 33 candidates.
The People’s Resurgence and Justice Alliance (PRJA), co-founded by former marathon faster Irom Sharmila, has about Rs 3.1 lakh in crowd-sourced money for campaigning. It works out to Rs 60,200 for each of its five candidates.
One of these candidates is Sharmila, contesting the Thoubal assembly seat against chief minister Okram Ibobi Singh of the Congress. Elections to the 60-member Manipur assembly are scheduled in two phases on March 4 and 8.
“We envisaged PRJA to be different from mainstream political parties, relying on the power of the people for attaining justice. So we launched the #Ten4Change campaign, letting people know they can donate as little as Rs 10 to strive for the change they seek ,” PRJA convener Erendro Leichombam, contesting the Thangmeiband assembly seat, told HT.
PRJA received Rs 300,000 online, partly from Manipuri diaspora abroad and those who were sympathetic to Sharmila’s 15-year fast against the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (Afspa). Less than Rs 10,000 came offline from the local youth.
“We are being realistic by fielding only five candidates. It is more like preparing for the next assembly election in 2022. But this time, we want to show an election can be fought with the minimum of resources,” Erendro, 33, said.
All the PRJA candidates – Najima Phundreimayum (Wabgai seat), Md Illyas Khan (Lilong) and Bowang Kho (Karong), besides Erendro and Sharmila – have thus been frugal in their poll spending. Volunteers from Manipur and elsewhere pitching in to manage the campaign have also helped the party make do with the bare necessities.
“For campaigning, we are organising small public meetings in leikai (locality) community halls for free or a fee of Rs 500 or the backyard or courtyard of a supporter’s house. We haven’t spent money on advertising through posters or hoardings, and our candidates are using bicycles for door-to-door campaigning,” Geetika Sehmay, a volunteer from New Delhi, said.
PRJA has been organising interactions with youth in cafes, which do not involve any hiring charges, Geetika said. The candidates and volunteers use PRJA’s office vehicle sparingly or bicycles.
Sharmila, for instance, has occasionally been pedaling 35km from state capital Imphal to Thoubal town 35 km to the south. “She did think of renting a house temporarily in Thoubal but the idea was dropped,” Geetika said.
Sharmila, 44, has avoided publicity during her campaigns. PRJA leader James Mayengbam, steering her campaign in Thoubal, said she has primarily been informing people about the new party’s objectives.
“The people have been used to her as an activist with only one goal – that of getting the draconian Afspa repealed. She understands it will take time for people to accept her in a political role, but there is no lack of support for her,” James said.
Erendro said a better, corruption-free Manipur is possible only if elections are clean and voters not bribed.
“Bid to recover huge money spent on elections is making the future slip away from our hands. This has made Manipur suffer from tattered roads, broken schools, unemployment, drug and alcohol abuse, poor healthcare, militarisation encouraged by Afspa. Our plea to the people is to help make a difference, to rebuild the community and protect it from disintegration,” he said.