There's a phrase that's been making rounds of political party offices and among election campaigners in Manipur in the past weeks – flying voters. It might remind you of track and field games but it actually has more to do with electoral athletics in the ongoing 9th assembly election in this state.
It is also subtly different from the more common phrase `floating voters' or voters who are undecided about their political affiliations till they enjoy the privacy of a polling cubicle.
"Floating voters do not usually have any political leanings and decide the candidate at the last moment. They go by last minute whims,'' said Professor MC Arun who teaches social anthropology at the Manipur University.
Flying voters, on the contrary, can be 'caught', trapped if you may, with money in the 48 hours before the election. "These are voters who need to be swayed with money in the critical 48 hours leading to the election date. Giving them money before 48 hours is meaningless. They would have political leanings but the money, be it Rs 100 or Rs 500, could ensure their stamp of approval,'' Arun said.
And with Manipur registering huge turnouts in the first two phases of the three-phase election, it is this question of money as motivation that's making rounds in discussions, even if in whispers.
B Sharma of CPI is categorical. "This high turnout is a dangerous trend, simply because of people of Manipur have little political awareness. So, if people turn up to vote in spite of low understanding, it means some thing else is motivating them. Large sums of money have exchanged hands. The science of democracy has been compromised,'' Sharma said.
Congress's S Mangi Singh was evasive but said that it could be true in some cases and in some constituencies. ``But where is the evidence to prove it? It could be do with effective campaigning by the political parties,'' Singh said.
What also cannot be ignored is the fact that more than 70 per cent Manipuris are literate. ``The high turnout is because of high literacy rate and level of political maturity. Despite all problems, the people are ready to freely express their opinions,'' said former CM and NCP candidate Radha Benod Koijam.
Professor Arun is somewhat skeptical about this argument. ``There is no dividing issue between political parties this time. All parties are talking about protecting Manipur's territorial integrity and repealing the Armed Forces Special Powers Act.
"Money indeed could have played a part in the elections in the urban and peri-urban areas. In rural areas kinship and village solidarity play more important roles. Anyway, money is part of election rituals in Manipur. No one really thinks it is immoral,'' Arun said.
Arun and four of his University colleagues, in fact, had conducted an informal post-election survey in 2002. They circulated a structured list of questions like 'when did you decide' (whom to vote) with a possible four answers – 24 hours, 48 hours, seven days or a month and so on.
Though the survey was by no means exhaustive, Arun said that it did hint at the use of money with most respondents admitting that they decided the candidate in the last 48 hours. For the candidates, however, these are the flying voters who could take them on the flight path to victory.