Elections in Nagaland-Then and Now

X Chophika Sumi
Bank Colony, Dimapur

From what I heard, our ancestors were men and women of great dignity. They were known for their honesty and simplicity. People honoured them for their simple yet elegant lifestyle. And this is quite evident from the scores of bookswhich are readily available in the bazaars written by the early English people who had visited Nagaland.The General election to the 1st Nagaland legislative Assembly was no exception. Unlike today’s election where only the rich and the powerful are considered qualified even to contest! There were no such criteria back then. Of course, there were only a handful who were educated but the common people were not spiteful of electing the deserving and the capable candidate nor were the Candidates boastful of their candidature.


Last year, during the latter part of November, I attended the funeral programme of former Minister of Nagaland Kiyelho Phucho. During the course of the programme, a middle aged man came up to deliver a eulogy. My attention was caught when he mentioned that the Phucho spent Rs.5 only when he contested the 1st NLA election. And the money was spent not for electioneering purpose but to purchase ‘Tea’ for the Area elders who came to meet him at the hotel! There are many other similar stories which clearly depicts how honest our ancestors were. There were also instances where the ‘Unspent Money’ by the Government were sent back to Delhi! Such were their nobility and integrity. Nagas were proud to produce such great statesman who had great vision for their land.


While Mizoram presented a surplus budget in its last session, our state is running in deficit for over a decade.There is no question of sending back the unspent money back to Delhi as of today. In fact, our people ingeniously prepare ghost projects to draw funds. While there are many projects which are left uncompleted.The funds meant for the masses gets devoured as it trickles down the various bureaucratic stages after lump sum is paid to the Minister. And of course our NPGs also play a side part role.


Today, election in Nagaland is not complete without a scuffle. Although the affluent use of alcohol and the frequent whizzing of convoys of vehicles manned by rowdy youths armed every sort of object which can be used as a weapon, has been drastically reduced over the years, yet, there are still many aspects where we lack behind others compared to our dressing and lifestyle. Rampant proxy voting and buying of votes has become the vogue. The previous Nagaland General election witnessed massive changes and was comparatively better than the other elections. While the NBCC’s call for clean election fell on deaf ears for many people, yet there were many who actually adhered to it. In some polling stations in Dimapur, some proxy voters were allegedly paid as high as Rs. 5000 per vote! This is the time when even an insignificant person tries to act like an important figure. Pockets, however big, never run out of cash during such occasion. This is the time when Nagaland actually becomes the ‘Las Vegas.’ Small time casinos can be seen set up everywhere with even onlookers betting on the game. Clubs and pubs witness anunusual rush teeming with under aged boys and girls. The Church also gets hefty donations as prayer requests and they’re also more fervent in their prayers than before.


The recently held by-elections for the lone Lok Sabha seat was very serene albeit intense campaigning was carried out by both the parties. This was perhaps the first time, Lok Sabha election in Nagaland was held with much fervour given the political developments at the Centre. The actual voter turn-out was emphatically very less but the end result was quite surprising! Both the parties desperately tried to outwit the other with the hope to capture the proxy votes but at the end the winning party managed to get more.


We are beautiful in our outlook. While our backyards are dumped with rubbishes. We look modern yet devoid of etiquettes. I still remember profoundlyhow our professor told us the systematic Change that theWest underwent. They started with bullock carts, then moved to bicycles and then cars and aeroplanes. But most of us Nagas have jumped directly to cars and bikes. As such, there is a huge gap in terms of mentality as compared with the Western people.We are gradually improving but we still have a long way to go to be at par with the rest of the world. We are doing exceptionally well given the fact that most of us are second generation literates. But we need to put in more effort. We can be better than what we are now.


While we are swamped in our quest to be better and better. May I take this opportunity to ask this question to my fellow Nagas?


Can we inculcate and exhibit our ancestor’s traits sans headhunting and animism?