Money ‘matters’ in Nagaland

Days after the ending of voting processes in Nagaland, there was a curious exchange of words between two political parties –the Nagaland Pradesh Congress Committee and the Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP). Nagaland went to poll on April 11.

The former fired the first salvo in the form of a Good Friday’s ‘homily’ insinuating that “politics of corruption and defection have defaced” the spirit of ‘Nagaland for Christ.” The “leaders” were accused of “engineering defections by offering huge gratification.”

The latter fired back with a demand for public apology backed with a threat to go legal route if the former could not “substantiate the accusation.” Issue of secularism and polarisation on the religious line were raised but thankfully, the matter subsided thereafter.

Without dwelling on merits of the case or otherwise, some allegations, monetary in nature, were implied. Money, indeed, is indispensable in one’s life, but more so in State’s electoral politics. Somehow, its seems to amplify the prospect of the candidates and also invariably impact voter’s choice and motivation to exercise their ‘franchises.’

What is money then? There is no common textbook definition and economists, among others, cannot concur on a definite term. Ergo, FA Walker’s well-known maxim, “Money is what money does” is frequently quoted to explain its functional definition. Following this, the basic definition of money can be arrived at by looking at the essential functions it performs as – a medium of exchange; a measure of value; a store of value and standard of deferred payment.

Influential British economists of the 20th century, John Maynard Keynes in his ‘Liquidity Preference Theory’ further elaborated the people’s demand for money into three motives – Transactionary – for day-to-day expenses; Precautionary – for unforeseen expenditure; and Speculative-to take advantage of future changes in the interest rate or bond prices.

In this regard, it is pertinent to ascertain for what motives money changes hands in the state, particularly during elections. In the increasingly high stake games, it matters – from handouts to freebies, from publicity to influencing voter’s choice as well as candidatures.

Contrary to popular opinion, however, electioneering in Nagaland is extremely a frugal affair on paper if one goes by the candidates’ expenditures affidavits.

For instance, during the 13th Nagaland Legislative Assembly (NLA) general election held on February 27, 2018, hardly Rs 10 crore was spent collectively 158 candidates according to data made available at the State’s electoral office. A report by The Morung Express noted that only 24 candidates spend above 10 lakh; way off from the maximum official limit Rs. 20 lakh per candidate for the Polls.

This appears to whitewash the general perception that elections in the state have always been marred by numerous reports (both alleged and confirmed) of aggressive vote “buying and obnoxious amounts spent on party workers,” it sceptically noted.

The scepticism was not unfounded. The ‘Post Election Watch Report 2018, Nagaland’ released by YouthNet in December 2018 highlighted that collective expenditure was a ‘cool’ Rs. 1061 crore. The highest spending candidate spent an average of Rs. 30 crore, it said while the highest average spent per household was Rs. 75,000. The overall average cost per vote was Rs. 5000-10,000 in Nagaland.

‘Voters in general in Nagaland have less or no regard or completely ignorant of the importance of the election, besides gaining hefty pockets of money,’ the report elaborated.

What are the motives behind such transactions in aforesaid instances and does it affect other spheres too? Does it affirm to the functional definition of money? One can only say with absolute certainty that “Money is what money does,” as the debates and actions continue.