The importance of public opinion is yet to be fully appreciated in the context of Naga society and polity although such ‘opinions’ are present almost everywhere be it at home, at work places, in church etc. The common tendency to ridicule or even brush aside such opinion seeking exercise especially by those at the helm of affairs is not a good sign and does not augur well for the emergence of a vibrant democratic society. Recently in response to an opinion poll conducted by The Morung Express on Separation of Powers, a public leader denounced not only the exercise but more unfortunately, the views expressed by people, especially those who reasoned and supported Separation of Powers. Such an attitude may discourage the formation of a healthy democratic discourse and may only be reflective of the unwillingness for people to either come out of their comfort zones or face the truth.
Public opinion if taken seriously can enhance democracy, promote open society, improve communication among people and most importantly create the necessary space for understanding and dialogue to take place. The viewpoint as expressed by the public can turn out to be the most effective way of addressing issues and for the government of the day; it can turn out to be an important source of getting to know the mood of the people on vital issues. The question is whether the government or any other authority is at all serious about listening to the voice of the people. To ignore it would be at its own peril.
While it is accepted that public opinion polls, carried out by newspapers here in Nagaland may not be the most accurate indicator of what people think, it nevertheless provides a general viewpoint on a particular issue or problem. What is important is that public opinion implies plurality and diversity and as such the establishment—whether government, Church, civil groups—may feel agitated, insecure and threatened by the progressive thoughts contained in opinion polls. At the end of the day for those who want to maintain the status quo it does not matter whether a policy decision or a standpoint being taken is wrong, immoral, dangerous or unpopular as long as it is justified. This is essentially the problem with the established order that fear change and therefore opinion polls.
However, for accountability and transparency to set in, greater importance has to be given to what opinion the public have to express. Rather than be spiteful, public opinion (polls) must become more visible as a constituent part of the political process. For party organizations or policy makers, such a thing as public opinion can actually be used to either plan political campaigns or for designing development programs. At the end of the day, a vibrant democracy depends on a leadership that pays heed to the issues and policy makers who are in touch with people’s concerns. At a time when society is divided by bitter partisanship and polarization, the opinion expressed by people can infuse trustworthiness into political discourse, policy making and public discussion.