Nagaland’s Stockholm Syndrome

Moa Jamir


Election season has kicked off in Nagaland. It is the hot topic of conversation in every circle. Politicians are becoming gracious in accepting an invitation to various events and are visibly more active. The battle lines have already been drawn in many villages and towns. Camps are being formed and sporadic skirmishes over election matters are reported from different corners. The clarion call for ‘Clean Election’ by different religious, social as well as government entities seems to be fluttering little over the ground in most places.


By now, the Nagas have recognised corruption and electoral mal-practices as the two greatest vices afflicting society. Despite crying hoarse over these epidemics, however, they don’t hesitate to follow the same and regularly fall under its spell, whenever opportunities arise. It is an acute case of ‘Stockholm Syndrome,’ described as a psychological response where “the captive begins to identify closely with his or her captors, as well as with their agenda and demands.”


The term is derived from a botched bank robbery in Stockholm in 1973 when four employees of a bank were held hostage for six days in its vault but a seemingly unusual bond developed between the ‘captive and captor’ afterwards. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, by the 21st century, the understanding of the Syndrome has expanded to other spheres including victims of domestic violence, cult membership, and prisoners of war.


In the case of Nagaland, corruption and electoral politics – in various avatars – have held citizens captive for years. For instance, having a relative, friend or villager at the high office is taken as a batch of honour for an individual. The motive, however, is not purely selfless and based on the implicit assumption that they will come to rescue when the need arises. For those in the government sector, the fear of losing transfer or other bad postings often decides their affinity to certain practices.


In such a scenario, actions which can be taken as nepotism, or other corrupt practices, become a normal way of life. A legislator or departmental head enabling a ‘backdoor’ appointment or other unlawful favours are considered Good Samaritan and often put on a high pedestal. The Naga attraction for short-cuts, lip-service and quick fixes can be understood in this context.


Civil Society Organizations and Non-Governmental Organizations are co-opted by the government and serve as defenders of the government “against public criticism” or as to act as silent observers in the unfolding farce. Each depends on the other.


An election, thus, becomes a gamble for stakeholders – pride, vote, transfers, benefit in kind and cash as well as other promises. In most cases, election is a time when both the candidate and the elector try to extract maximum benefits in this high stake game. In this game, the elected member becomes the representative of their family, relatives, and village rather than a legislator of Nagaland.


This time around, except in certain pockets, talk of a clean and fair election has already disappeared from the horizon. “Not this time” is a common refrain while discussing such issues.


Survival instincts drive Stockholm Syndrome. Socio-cultural, religious, economic as well as political state of affairs often leads to the said syndrome.


As another election beckons, can the citizens of Nagaland forsake this syndrome and stand for collective development?