Oh Elections!

One still cannot fathom the steel grip that Indian state elections have over the Naga mind. When election time comes, everything just seems to go into disarray and people begin to act and relate quite strangely and for once they seem very focused in what they wish to see accomplish. It has occurred to me that it is only during the festive seasons and election time that the Naga society suddenly seems to spring back to life from their somber sleep. It is one of those internal contradictions that have come to assume a degree of prevalence in the Naga political life. To come to think about it, there are even songs written about elections and how the corruption of elections is seeping away the moral and ethical roots of the society.

But with all seriousness, one must accept that the process and outcome of state elections has come to affect the everyday life of individuals. By this, I don’t mean it in terms of policies and issues that define the well-being of a nation, but rather as an extension that perpetuates a culture of patronizing and hegemonizing politics which has resulted in the manipulation of power of every kind. Such a culture has caused the disengagement of debate and dialogue over issues that matter to the broader community. This cycle seems unending and every election seems unchanged, other than the increasing astronomical figure the candidates have to shell out from their pockets in order to increase their changes to be elected. Surely when elections are only for those with such resources, the very idea of democracy itself is questioned? 

In this manner, the whole election economy has effectively reduced elections to a bag of rice, petty personal favors or a sum of money which in turn determines how one exercises their adult franchise. The over emphasis on individuals and parties in turn has taken the focus away from issues and people, which is what elections ought to be about.  Hence control of power in the hands of a few to make policies increases the possibilities of the abuse of power and the fundamental lack of transparency, accountability and participation. The culture of electoral politics in Nagaland has come to contradict the ethics of participatory democracy. 

The impact of electoral politics on Naga society has been phenomenal. It has promoted the society to new standards of corruption and guile. It has even succeeded in ensuring that the electoral politics be based on ‘family,’ ‘clan’ and ‘tribe’ lines. Is it not ironic that even family relations are severed during elections? But above all, the electoral system has ensured that the ‘powers that be’ monopolizes the authority over employment and livelihood; hence furthering people’s dependency on politicians and state. This results in a system that perpetuates a ‘distance’ between those who govern and the governed, thereby making accountability an impersonal matter of legal procedure. The overwhelming conditions of dependency lead to passivity and inaction. 

In the madness of election, even Naga nationalism is side stepped for a while; church deacons for once temporarily replace their hats, even the ‘honest’ ones seem not very honest anymore; the literate become no different from the illiterate and life is abuzz with renewed activity and vigor; and not to forget, the potentiality to turn violent. Suddenly all that which was unacceptable is conveniently overlooked and the unusual becomes the usual. All this takes place as if with a tacit understanding that once election is over, everything will then return to the ‘normal.’ Perhaps these are the reasons why people keep saying that elections in Nagaland are different from others. 

Elections in Nagaland are a culture of its own; and in the process it has become a monolithic in nature. One simply cannot fully comprehend how the culture of elections in such a short life-span of four decades turned out to be like this and how it has come to impact and influence the Nagas in ways like no other. While one could say that for the Nagas it was a matter of transferring their idea of symbolism and consensual democratic process to that of state elections, there is no doubt that from the Indian perspective, the politics of state elections and statecraft has been successful in its political project of assimilating the Nagas.   

Electoral politics in Nagaland has indeed given birth to a new generation of electoral leaders whose ethical values greatly differ from the kind of ‘leadership’ that existed within the Naga ethical framework. Hopefully future political leaderships to move away from the existing notion of leadership, and will have the strength and the will to recover and develop a new form of leadership that is value based and one that will give life to ideals of participatory democracy, transparency, accountability, fairness and justice. I can’t help but conclude with Bantu Steve Biko’s insight that “the most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.”