Nagaland Election and the ‘Godfathers’

Prof. (Dr.) Kedilezo Kikhi

Professor of Sociology & Chair Professor, Dr. Ambedkar Chair, Tezpur University, Assam

Elections in Nagaland are contested and fought in a manner of ‘Do or Die’. And it is so, because many Nagas have a perception that – ‘politicians are very powerful, if not the most powerful’ in the state. The other perception is ‘we need the politicians more than they need us’. Why is this so? Many believe so, because the politicians control almost everything – from job appointments, to bureaucrats, commissioner-secretaries, directors, transfers, contractual works, etc. – to the movement of every file. But I want to contest this perceptive statement. It is not the politicians who are the most powerful in the state but the ‘godfathers’. Who are these godfathers? Are they not the few Naga crorepatis or even others. Their presence becomes most visible during the election times. They invest (or need to invest) during elections sponsoring a candidate or more candidates but surely not without conditions. Actually they are buying the vulnerable candidates. To some of the godfathers, it is a ‘game of pride’beyond investment in elections, to satisfy their supreme egos.


The concept of godfather has been borrowed from the all-time bestselling novelThe Godfather written by Mario Puzo in 1969 (an Oscar winning movie was produced in 1972, based on the novel). The novel is about a fictitious Sicilian mafia family based in New York City headed by Don VictoCorleane who became synonymous with the Italian mafia. Some of the quotations from the novel enable us to replicate the context in Nagaland on why the godfather has to invest?


‘Men who refused the dominion of other men’


‘We have to be cunning like the business people. There is more money in it’


Puzo opened his 1969 novel with an epigraph popularly attributed to Balzac: ‘Behind every great fortune there is a crime’. The saying is most likely evolved over time from Balzac’s original text: ‘the secret of a great success for which you are at a loss to account is a crime that has never been found out, because it was popularly executed’. ‘I am going to make him an offer he can’t refuse’. What is the offer? What is the negotiation? Something is there in the negotiation or else the modern godfather without guns (Nagaland context) will never invest?


Many godfathers in Nagaland are referred to even generous philanthropist. They are very generous to many needy kitchens; in other words, they have become the godfather who gives security to the poor kitchens which the government has failed to do so. In Christian terms, it is interpreted thus, that ‘they are sharing the blessings of God; God has blessed them with so much wealth, property, richness which in turn they are sharing with the needy’. But many a times we are blinded or even the church is blinded, on never questioning the source of the money?


Godfathers in this case are not politicians. For politician can give funds to relatively weaker candidates of their own parties. Whereas, the godfathers operate solely in terms of business, i.e. to make profits. ‘1 crore is invested to make 2 crores’. Not just making monetary benefits, but it is a total sell-out to the godfathers. The godfather knows his business and he is best at this. Very strategically the godfather devours the politician, making him a puppet. This exactly is the reason why we have successive weak governments. And a weak-parasitic government is for the best interest of the godfathers. The godfather is not only a godfather to the poor kitchens but the politician too.There are two different issues here:


a) One is, selling your votes to the godfather via the candidate you support and


b) The other is, more costly where you are not only selling your votes but your ‘constituency’ especially when the godfather is an alien. (Of course, buying or selling votes is no democracy at all).


I am sure no sensible voters are going to take money or vote for the godfather. Voting the godfather posits a danger of allowing him to enslave the candidate as well as every citizen. The MLA will henceforth owe the godfather and thus your job applications or every other file has to pass through the godfather’s table for approval. The MLA no more represents you but will simply become the godfather’s apparatus in the government. ‘We are all-sold till the next election’. In the present election, we have been witnessing a good number of (educated) leaders who flit around, trying to mobilise votes for their choice of candidates but not realising they are actually campaigning for the godfather (simply falling into their trap).


To make a case, one can ask are there any godfathers in Kohima Division? (Say, 8 Western Angami, 9 Kohima Town, 10 Northern Angami I, 14 Southern Angami I and 15 Southern Angami II constituencies, etc.). For instance, in 15 Southern Angami II Constituency (which is also my constituency), we seem to have a godfather this time, perhaps for the first time. People of this constituency proudly claim that, this constituency is a respectable and significant one. This claim they pompously justify by saying that, God has blessed this (same) constituency with CM & MP in Vizol; State level Party presidents like Dr. N. Rhetso (BJP) & K.V. Pusa (NPCC) and a host of other ministers and MLAs like Dr. H. V. Sakhrie, Hosal, etc. If there is a godfather at all, the voters have to defeat the godfather and not surrender to someone who will dictate them later. This is to justify their claim. It is all the more a crucial election for the citizens of 15 Southern Angami II to take decisions for their future. Do they want such an arrangement? To be dictated by an external source? Or do they want a representation who will work independently for the people of the constituency. If given a chance, I would personally urge the voters to vote for a candidate, so that they can keep their ‘…head – held high…’


This situation has to be seen in the larger context of the state. The existing status quo favours the godfathers. What is the existing system? It is a weak government, very dependent and parasitic to Delhi, if not to the godfathers. But who questions, who has institutionalised such systems? Why are the godfathers so interested to invest in elections? Is it not to control the elected MLAs, so that the existing (present) condition is comfortably sustained? This brings us to a Weberian situation of conflict. We are witnessing an emerging capitalist society and a capitalist class in its real sense. Capitalism has to be understood as a system of exploitation. It depends in numerous ways on the exploitation of certain classes of human beings by others…in this case, exploitation by the godfathers. The godfathers are very manipulative and corrupted. Weber considers three situations which may eventually lead to conflict:


a) A situation where there is high degree of correlation among power, wealth and prestige. That is when economic elites for example are also social and political elites and vice versa. This group could correspond to the Naga elites today constituting the godfathers and the politicians.


b) A situation where there is a dramatic discontinuity in the distribution of rewards or the existence of divisions in social hierarchies that gives privilege to some. When only a few hold or hoard power, wealth and prestige and the rest are denied these rewards, then tensions and resentments exists, leading to fight against the capitalists.


c) A third situation, where there is low rates of social mobility. When those of low rank have little chance to move up to social hierarchies or to enter a new class, party or status group, then resentment starts accumulating. Those who are denied of opportunities to increase their access to resource become restive and willing to challenge the existing system.


The problem is further intensified with the effect of neoliberalism, which is also inequality, where the rich grows richer and the poor becomes poorer. The godfathers need the ‘state’ to protect their wealth. And the pertinent question is whether we can trust this state? For we know that the state is controlled by the godfathers. We have an exploitative system in place. To me, the responding answer lies with the present youth. And it is also indicative that the youth are conscious of the exploitative system. The youth are frustrated with not one issue but multiple issues which have been manifested at several occasions. The state needs visions for the youth and the future.


I would also like to reiterate that for any state to develop, we need a strong opposition in the Legislative Assembly, a strong opposition who can contribute constructively with criticisms especially on the governmental policies. I am very critical about ‘opposition less government’ the incumbent government, claims to have achieved. It is still too early to predict who or which party will come to power. But I do not think it will be a hung Assembly as many political analysts perceives. Come March 3, and we will get the results. This 2018 election will verdict many heavy weights to be in opposition and hopefully they should learn to accept their party’s defeat gracefully like a true gentleman. This I believe is for the best interest of the public and Nagaland state as ‘Kaziranga trips’ has not brought us any honour.


February 27, 2018 should be a vote for change, a vote for challenging the existing status quo, a vote for maturity, an emancipatory vote for progress and development.