Frenemies of the house

Ekyimo Shitirie

He’s a friend, he’s a foe. Call him whichever and you are right either way. Or wrong in the next instant. For, something as fickle as friend or foe doesn’t fit the political persona of public figures in Nagaland. These men personify betrayal and treachery and thrive on them. They have taken the phrase, ‘there’s no permanent friendship or enmity in politics’ to a new level. The axiom even rings with a certain philosophy: that, that’s the way life is and one must accept it with dignity.


Frenemies, they are. Friends with benefits and enemies-in-waiting. They align and collide at will and throw us a few surprises every quarter of the year. Recently, two of the three camps successfully attempted at healing an impossible breach – to be friends again. In doing so a greater breach was created with the third – they became enemies. The sudden turn of political development jolted even the jaded public and threw their normal course of docile existence out of kilter. The jaw dropping event rocked the foundations of Naga politics and cast a long shadow over the Christmas season. Such folly in the season to be jolly!


High on a misplaced sense of power, the playboys of the clubby Naga politics have reduced politics to a mere game. They have offended the canons of good politics and have given it a bad name by kidding around with it. It must have been a necessary move to save the government from going into a constitutional crisis or an essential move for mutual survival. But a condition requiring such a costly political adventurism shouldn’t have been created in the first place.


It’s a costly affair wanting to be the leader. A palace coup can happen at the drop of a hat. Power struggle between friends turns them into enemies. Ministerial berths switch along with shift in leadership. Power is stripped from one to be given to another in surprising ways and speed. Friends are dispensable commodities to be used for political convenience. It’s a pity taking oath of secrecy under a cloud of uncertainty. What a shame, the Governor just can’t take respite from swearing-in ceremonies. What a loss expending valuable time on endless politicking rather than on getting down to business.


When DAN III was installed it was damned to be like that. There were already too many friends in the coalition but the leaders still crammed in some more by coaxing out battle-weary and gullible rivals from the Congress party and the Independents for good measure. TR’s coalition government was simply over-zealous in killing off the opposition without leaving any leeway for conceiving the possibility of other negative consequences. It was playing out its drama to a packed house. The decimation of the opposition and the resultant no-opposition government was a bit too grotesque to be considered a sensible thing to do.


By having a full house of friends the coalition government had overreached itself in the job of keeping itself stable. One of the penalties of enjoying majority by hundred percent over zero is having to deal with hyper group dynamics. The more the number of members, the more is the extent and intensity of dissent. The sheer size of the super group sets the condition favourable for growth of dissenting sub-groups with tendencies to mount coups. Rivalry isn’t from without but from within. Moves for change of leadership or to bring this insanely ambitious government have always been an inside job.


Anybody who is a member of the coalition would want to be somebody with ministerial power. But the size of ministry is circumscribed by the Constitution (91st Amendment) Act, 2003. Nagaland cannot have more than 12 ministers including the chief minister. The leaders of the coalition might have possibly relied on the well-worn trick of overstretching the limits put by the constitution by appointing Parliamentary Secretaries, Advisors and Chairmen to accommodate every one of them. But they still run out of these positions. Moreover, there is a world of difference between cabinet ministers and these fancy positions.


There was one fatal flaw in the assumption that no opposition meant smooth governance and safe cover-up for the multitude of sins. More representatives on the treasury bench would mean more demands for the few ministerial berths. Discontentment, and finally disenchantment follow. Discontented members usually lose the power of restraint and spill the beans of the many misdeeds of those members with powers.


Multiple fissures appear in the government. The leadership is polarized. Hopeful members take sides and pick their leader who they think would fulfill their demands. Tussle for power ensues and friends find themselves at each other’s throat while the enemy is roped in to decide the winner, and they become BFF until the next crises.


If only there was an opposition! It would have provided stability to the coalition government. Firstly, having an opposition means reduced number of members wanting ministerial berths. Secondly, in the face of opposition the ruling parties would naturally come together and form a solid defensive phalanx. The bond within the ruling parties would be strengthened and the members would think twice before giving the opposition an advantage by asking for too much.


As long as the electorate in the state allow the ruling party at the Centre to hold sway over them, there will always be zero-opposition state government. The state’s historical trend shows the ruling party at the Centre totally influencing the next assembly election in the state. The present government at the centre becomes the precursor of the next government in the state. This is so because the politicians and the electorate in the state are made to believe that aligning with the ruling party at the centre would be advantageous. More funds would flow into the state. Everyone from the modest voter to the high profile campaign financier to the highly opportunist politician wants to have a slice of the pie. They dance and sway merrily to the tune of the ruling party at the centre like those mindless mice following the pied piper. There’s nothing ideological in it, they just swing their support from plain base motives.


The winner mustn’t take all. Some must be left to the opposition, a credible one who would form the shadow government. The ratio between the ruling parties and the opposition needs to be somewhere near-about 35:25 in order to have a stable government. The opposition will form the alternative government in case of crises kicked up by frenemies and save us from having to bear their capriciousness.


The people of the state would do good with a bit of cheer in this cold and bleak season. Will the frenemies humour us with another surprise before they go in for re-election?