University of Hyderabad
‘Institutionalized corruption’, and ‘vote selling and buying,’ are terms which the average educated Naga youth have heard over and over again be it through the print media or through the electronic media including social media such as Facebook and WhatsApp. The powers that be are condemned over and over again for the corrupt practices that they have indulged in, not forgetting the vote selling that the public has carried out. Much hope has thus been given on the clean election campaign to cleanse the system. Those engaged in cleaning the system ought to be applauded and their efforts will pay off in manifold ways. Yet, I want to draw attention to certain aspects of governance in Nagaland vis-à-vis to corruption which hitherto seems to have been neglected in the corruption discourse. For this, digging a little deeper into our history and our social construct should, I believe, reveal much.
The current form of government with the government as an agency was alien to the Nagas. Our elders did the judiciary roles for us, our warriors protected us, and our villages took decisions based on consensus. These were all done through the village polity without any particular class taking those roles permanently. While forms of payment could have been rendered in the form of providing food for the elders when they adjudicated or working a day or two in the prominent warriors’ field and so on, these were all informal. While the priest had to count the days for important festivals to be observed for ritual purposes, things associated with governance including record keeping, paying taxes, permanent or semi-permanent bureaucracy or a ruling class were all absent. We were a republic or republics without a state. The society thrived with its strong community bonding.
A state was then introduced to us when the British came. Even in its nascent stage, payments were given to its employees. These employees consisted of dobashis and gaonburas, teachers and even a few who were employed as coolies or soldiers. An Indian state called Nagaland was then carved for us with all its entailments of modern democracy in the form of a fixed bureaucracy with its penchant for record keeping, and most importantly electing representatives in the form of Members of Legislative Assembly (MLA). However, this state introduced to us was foreign to us. We were not used to such governance. While a structure of governance was introduced, and people did take the services of the government, the government was seen as an agency imposed on us rather than an agency which emerged from the society from a need,say external invasion. People thus did not see the need to pay taxes, in fact, paying tax to the government is a phobia Nagas still have though no government in the world can exist without receiving resources from its citizens in the form of taxes.
The agency called government brought money and this money was used to buy things and develop the state. The people did not know how this money came about; they only knew that it was given from Delhi. The people also did not know that the government at Delhi raised those money from its citizens. Being ignorant of taxation system perpetuated by the special provisions, the people only knew the government as a job giving and money giving agency. “I don’t know who this government is but he must be a very benevolent person” so said a Naga, and that was the mindset of the people.
Those who were educated and knew how the system worked sought to get jobs by giving their names to this government and viola he was provided for throughout his life! More smarter and more educated people gave elections and they were elected to leadership roles as MLAs. These MLAs continued to give jobs and money to the people, and they were worshipped as benevolent leaders.
The state of utopia could not exist forever. Population grew, resources became scarce but the government was still the outside agency which gave money and jobs. No one cared to explain to the people that money was a real resource and when a rupee was given to a Naga, somewhere in India, someone had foregone a rupee in his consumption or saving, or that a government job was a real work to be done like a farmer working in his field though the works were of different natures.
Resources got more precious as they became relatively scarcer. Those who wanted to help themselves and help others aka elected legislators saw that by giving a pittance to the people they would vote for them. Now, that was illegal in the real sense of the term but they found a way around it, Nagas had lived for centuries through wealth redistribution from the rich in the form of feasts of merits, feasts through stone pulling and so on. Helping the people by giving money and other materials was thus only another form of wealth redistribution, the difference this time being that they didn’t had to work hard but deduct from the already scarce resource given from Delhi. He was in the agency called the government which the people still saw as an outside agency and with a signature gave jobs to those who came to take his help, gave money to those who were in need, gave contracts to his near and dear ones and so on.
The people still didn’t know that the government was not supposed to function that way, that there were rules and formalities to be followed, that the government was not a benevolent person but only a redistributor, and an agency to develop infrastructure, and maintain law and order, so that the people could do what their interests demanded of them, which would be impossible without a government. Jobs were given away and that was benevolence from the government or the person holding the position, not corruption. Votes were sold to the legislators but the people did not know that their votes being sold was illegal. For them, the legislators gave money and they gave their votes! Nothing wrong there! In fact, election times were the best times to make money. Register as many times as you want, and the more you vote, the more money you receive. This was also very convenient and much needed for a family of six school-going agechildren without any monetary source of income, which the church by the way, has to take care if it is serious about clean election.
Then came the ‘Clean Election Campaign’ saying that one should not receive money for one’s vote and the people are confused. “Why?” they asked. Those in authority are told that government jobs have to be advertised properly and the best candidate is supposed to be given the job, not the favorite nephew or niece or son or daughter and they are confused! “Things are done this way, who are you to tell us what to do?” they asked!
One can see now how the task of cleansing the system in Nagaland is going to require a long slow journey of changing the mindset of the people about the government and educating them on how modern governments work. The church leaders themselves have practiced this without ever wondering that it is wrong legally. I know of a woman (she gave birth to me) who went to another village to get money for her vote, and I can testify that she was an honest woman. I know of a man (who was the reason for my birth) who prayed and ran from pillar to pillar unsuccessfully to get a job for his daughter. And he is an honest man. Corruption in Nagaland cannot be understood through the narrow prism of right and wrong. Education and awareness, and not even repentance, is the solution at the moment.