The crooked and the savvy



Can the Clean Election Campaign overcome the cycle of dependency between the voter, politician and businessman


Is Nagaland suffering from wanting “a few good men” in politics?


Sometime in 2014, Raghuram Rajan, who was then Chairman of the Reserve Bank of India, said, “One widely held hypothesis is that our country suffers from want of a “few good men” in politics.” He said every now and then a group emerges – usually middle class professionals, who wish to clean up politics. “But when these “good” people stand for election, they tend to lose their deposits,” he remarked.


“Does the electorate really not want squeaky clean government?” Rajan questioned. The error in this overall hypothesis, he says, “may be in believing that problems stem from individual ethics rather than the system we have.”


This is a question many of us are asking in Nagaland. Is it the politician or the system that has failed the people? Or is it both? And, why is it that Nagas tolerate politicians that are open to corrupt behavior?


Rajan sheds light on this by saying that the public services are biased against the poor. For instance, ration shops do not supply what is due, even if one has a ration card. And if say rice is available, it is poor quality. Teachers do not show up for work at schools where they teach. In Nagaland a flourishing “proxy worker system” reportedly exists where officials draw salaries without actually working. At the same time, working teachers are deprived their salary for months on end. The police do not register crimes, especially when committed by the powers that be. Jobs are not given on the basis of merit. Rather they are based on “connections, influence, power and relationships” through backdoor appointments.


The point being, Rajan informs us that it is in this kind of system, “where the crooked but savvy politician fits in.” It is here that the politician does a little bit “to make life a little more tolerable” for his constituency. For instance, giving government jobs here and there, allotting contract work, and bringing some development work to the community. In the process, a culture of dependency and patronage is fueled. For this, the politicians receive the voters’ gratitude, and more importantly, their vote. In other words the common people need the politician to help them get jobs and access to public services. However, ordinary people’s lives don’t improve overall, because they are part of the cycle supporting corruption.


The politician needs the businessman to provide the funds to fuel elections. In turn, the businessman needs the politician to get contracts and other public resources at subsidized rates. And, once again, the politician needs the votes of people who depend on him for jobs and patronage. This cycle of dependency between the voter, politician and businessman and, the bureaucrat, is what sustains the status quo.


It is within this backdrop where the system and the politician are scheming together that Nagaland is seeking clean elections. Hence, the Clean Election Campaign means breaking the vicious cycle of dependency. This is not about repairing the system. We need a system where the people don’t have to depend on the politician to get what rightfully belongs to the people.


The credibility of the electoral process relies on clean and honest political candidates.
Now is the time Nagaland must ask itself whether we can have a few good women and men in the 2018 state elections!