When an unresponsive government and its corrupt leaders reach beyond any hope of change or improvement, revolution could happen in the form of violent rebellion by the masses, leading to the overthrow of the government and sudden introduction of new systems. This is so because revolutionists operate on a whole and seek new directions. On the other hand, reformers operate on parts and seek gradual modifications with existing powers to transform society.
If reformation is what the Nagas need at this point in time, where are our reformers? If we say we have reformers, to what degree should they arouse people’s hopes or fight for the rights and demands of the suffering masses? Should our reform leaders cooperate or even merge with existing parties, create new parties, or shun parties altogether and keep their position uncompromised? Should they press ahead on a single issue such as electoral reform or on a package of political, social, and economic issues?
To be sure, there are no easy answers to these perplexing questions. But to fail to address them, or to do nothing, is worse. We have to, and must, address our unresolved issues, especially when moral principles are violated. In doing so, we may, like the British reformer Charles Grey, fail in our first attempt for reformation and then eventually succeed, or succeed first and then fail like what Woodrow Wilson experienced with his reformation movement in America. But either way, any reformation attempt can bring something positive.
Reform leadership by definition implies moral leadership. That means reformers must not follow improper means in trying to achieve their goals. This being the case, those who seek to reform an unresponsive system often face a dilemma: whether or not to compromise some of their principles in order to get what they want.
Then, there’s another problem reformers often face: the masses are not always driven by moral principles. Rather than supporting great principles, they look up to ‘powerful men’ with high-sounding titles. That is, they allow themselves to fall under the sway of dominant personalities, who represent all the very things they should oppose in the first place.
So then, should reform start from the top down? Perhaps we can think of no better example of a noble-class reformer than that of Alexander II of Russia, the Great Liberator of the peasants. Like most noble reformers, Alexander believed that to reform was to preserve czarist autocracy and Russian nationalism. His view of initiating reform was clearly apparent in his address to the key leaders in his polity: “But, of course, you understand yourselves that the existing order from above cannot remain unchanged. It is better to begin to abolish bondage from above than to wait for the time when it will begin to abolish itself spontaneously from below.” As such, his reform from above was self-serving and thus superficial. No wonder the political, social, and economic situations of the general populace in Russia have not improved much even after more than a century later. The people are to be blamed, too. Even the radical groups within the masses, instead of organizing themselves to oppose the faulty system, are still linked with the government and, to some degree, dependent on it.
As freedom-lovers, America has produced many great reformers in nearly four centuries. For example, Neal Dow pushed for Prohibition, Elizabeth C. Stanton for women’s rights, Horace Mann for better schools, W. L. Garrison for emancipation of slaves, Horace Greeley for free homesteads, Martin Luther King for civil rights, to name a few. These reformers were well aware of the political dilemma they faced, but they never gave up until their battles were eventually won. But how did they do it? For example, the abolitionist reformers in the 1840s exploited the rising discontent of the people, perfected group-movement tactics, organized third-party ventures, and even threw their weight into major party politics. And then in the 1850s, they turned to the most audacious of political strategies: the founding of a new political party that would challenge both the old parties and change the old political culture. In the end these abolitionist reformers helped produce the Republican Party on March 20, 1854, which defeated the Democrats and led to putting their own man, Abraham Lincoln, as President.
Now, what can we say about Naga reformers and the causes they fight for amongst our people in Nagaland today? No doubt many of our men and women are already involved in some sort of movement(s) for reformation. For example, those in Survival Nagaland want our State government to check the uncontrolled influx of illegal migrants into our homeland, the Naga women want gender justice and a provision for women representation in decision-making bodies, the ENPO/ENSF want fair distribution of public resources and opportunities, the Zeliang Public Organization wants protection of their rights in their own land, the Nagaland Tribes Council wants government to give priority to the rights of Nagaland Nagas, the Teachers’ Union wants payment of their salary on time, the churches and associations want clean elections, the ACAUT wants a corruption-free government.
Why is it, then, that none of these reform groups are getting what they want? In my opinion, there are two important missing pieces in their approaches: First, there is a no synergy amongst the various pressure groups, although they are all dealing with their own government. Each group is doing a solo-performance on a single issue. Secondly, none of them has come up with a viable political strategy or a general-interest mechanism to take things beyond simply creating political pressures or making loud noises. Only when a political party, whether old or new, has taken up the agenda of reform can there be a durable base to fall back on. That’s why reform groups must join their minds and efforts together to not only oppose the wrong systems but also to create new ones.