A government we deserve

Have you got time and patience to spare just to ponder over what was and what is ? After all, almost every aspect of our lives is entwined with the quality of governance that we each have to live under. It would do us no harm to make a general comparative analysis of our first generation leaders and the electorate of their time with that of the present. It may help us see where we stand and where we are headed. Perhaps even become the agent of change for the better.

With the advent of the British administration the head hunting days among the Nagas was truly done and over with. Among the great grandfathers’ generation barely emerging from head hunting escapade, there were those who were blessed with the uncanny wisdom of envisioning the future destiny of our people. They had the audacity to think out of the box by taking an unfamiliar giant step to send their children for academic pursuit rather than tie them down as a work force for cultivation as most people of their generation did. By the time Nagas matured sufficiently to administer their own State the Interim Body Members gave way to the first batch of educated and not so educated personalities who entered the electoral fray to shoulder the responsibility of forming the first political party based Govt. Each Member of the Legislative Assembly was elected to represent their respective tribes by virtue of their trustworthy, reliable and responsible qualities as leaders: The likes of Late Mr. P. Shilu, Jasokie, TN Angami, Hokishe, Vizol, Khelhose my late father, to name a few among many. Mr. SC Jamir remains a prominent surviving member of their time. By all account they were and are leaders of men who commanded the respect of the Nagas and looked up to. They were people of substance in spite of their human frailties. At that starting point MONEY was not a primary equation, be it for the politicians or the electorates. The traditional sense of honour and honesty was still noticeably prevalent amongst the first generation politicians, irrespective of the political party they belonged. Mind you I am not trying to paint an angelic picture of them all. Even in their time, many were honest by virtue of their traditional upbringing reinforced by their Christian beliefs while others were honest because of the lack of opportunity to do otherwise. The one subtle distinction of the earlier political leaders was perhaps the close relationship they maintained with their people. They frequented their constituency and made genuine effort to identify with the problems of the grassroot level. This was their common defining trait. It was a time of relatively corruption free governance. It was also a time when critical infrastructure like the inter district connectivity, the office buildings, schools and hospitals etc were being built and extended to the furthest  difficult corner of the state for the first time. Today, many of those infrastructural developments are still standing proudly. The fact that the present Ministers still reside in the same buildings constructed in their time is a visible testament of honest input and output where the quality of work was not compromised to an unacceptable degree. As compared, today there probably are innumerable cases of Government construction works needing repair as soon as the work is completed. We need not be a rocket scientist to know the reason why. There was a time when Heads of Departments were officially reprimanded and asked to explain why they were unable to spend even the meager earmarked budget given to them. True, they had to work under dangerously volatile and uncertain circumstances. Nevertheless can you believe that? Does this now not sound like a fairy tale from another planet? …but it was true. The contractors of the yesteryears did not have to come out to the open street with banners saying ‘we are demanding for what is ours’, because they were promptly paid for the work done. Liability was not so prominently underlined in their dictionary then. It is now a plague in a good number of Development Departments. What was and what is? 

Well, the working environment has the tendency of moulding each one into a different person according to the inherent character they possess. Over the years the gradual erosion of the laudable qualities of our elder statesmen being replaced by indifference along the way, has drastically transformed the political landscape beyond recognition. This is a general reference of the overall picture more commonly seen with exceptional few who still remain true to the old ways. The adverse impact of this growing apathy displayed by the leaders has spawned a natural reaction whereby the rural electorates now say “if I am to see my MLA only after five years I might as well take care of my financial problems by making him pay for my vote when I can dictate the terms”. This is a common refrain heard across the board and they are very impatiently waiting for the election to come around… to do their worst: the more candidates the better. Unfortunately this mind set is not about to change for the better. After tasting the first blood and with Mr. Greed sitting in the driving seat compounded by the escalating cost of living, the value of each vote will only be climbing higher up the Himalayas each term. There would definitely be many more equally valid reasons that are causing a tsunami in the political arena but as a starter, I would rate ‘indifference’ as one of the most crippling catalyst that has provided the ammunition for the constituents to act as they do. It has turned our world upside down. The worthy quality of a person in contest is no longer the all important focus. MONEY IS… so much so that if a dog or a cow or a pig or even a rat were to enter the contest with a trunk full of highest denomination currency, getting elected would almost be a certainty. This is the sad reality of our times. The vicious cycle of madness is ever growing stronger. In order to meet the insatiable monetary compulsions of the electorate, those who hold political authority would be called a fool if they did not dip their hands deeper into the developmental budget of their respective Department with eyes tightly shut. Others would mortgage whatever property they have and more. Still others would sell their soul to anyone willing to buy. When the electoral process is completed the scramble for power becomes a matter of life and death as a group and as an individual. It gets worse when no party holds a clear majority. Horses would be traded thick and fast. Some of the horses would in record speed, cross the floor four five times and more if needed. We have seen it all. The guiding force for all their actions has nothing to do with the welfare of the electorate. “After all”, they would say, “I bought the votes and I will do as I well please”. To be in power therefore becomes paramount in order to recuperate the investment already made and make more for the next battle. The high sounding election promises of development would therefore go for along hike somewhere in the wilderness of Mnt. Saramati and Japfu.  Reinforcing self for the next round must take precedence over all else. Development would take a severe beating should it return from the hike. Where does this all end? Even the Good Lord would be out of His wits and spend sleepless nights wondering how to clean up this almighty mess. What was and what is?

Having said this let us take a backward step and look at the genesis of another destabilizing factor in the form of the non local business community. The ones who mattered were mostly Dimapur based.  They too contributed significantly towards the negative transformation of our leaders by energizing the baser instincts. Most, if not all of them were initially kitchen level businessmen handling smaller stakes within the State. They had no real profitable reason to bribe anyone. As a result the Govt. of the first generation representatives was relatively free from glaring corruption. This scenario however, underwent a drastic overhaul the moment this class woke up one fine morning to a wider horizon of net working with their counterpart beyond the state boundary. Like Einstein, they discovered that bulk purchase of essential commodities like CPO rice, wheat etc at a Govt. subsidized price would fetch 70/80% margin of profit in the open market elsewhere. Reinforced with this market philosophy they established linkages with the outside world. This ultimately had a telling impact on the untested upright qualities of the Nagas. Those who were honest because of the lack of opportunity at last found that lucrative pond to swim in. Oiling the key infrastructure for a quick buck became their way of life.  Dealing with the essential commodities opened their business eyes further. They quickly filtered into all other sectors of the Govt. activities as suppliers, innovatively ‘influencing’ higher price fixation, directly or indirectly, for the required materials by the Govt. far above the market price. Unlike the Nagas, the non-locals are not exempted from income tax. Here too they ingeniously evaded this troublesome hurdle by RENTING the name of the ever willing Nagas who happily allowed themselves to be registered as 1st Class contractors to earn a few thousand bucks on a monthly bases. What they failed to fathom was the extent of the damage they were causing. The non local businessmen were earning multiple crores in the name of locals, without having to bother about income tax that would have run into crores to the exchequer. With the income tax burden out of the way, they amassed more black coloured financial clout to liberally influence the system in their favour. Many big business houses mushroomed within five/ ten years of the State formation and with their growth they also established a more efficient influencing mechanism.  Nagas have since graduated to a much higher sophisticated level with the exception of  some who still prayerfully believe in honesty but being labeled as ‘the fool’ of the flock for not gainfully exercising their authority. The mega business houses continuously expanded their field of operation by funding political candidates who were prepared to sell their soul just to take part in this ‘mother of all gambling’. With many a politician tucked away in their pocket the business class thoroughly entrenched themselves in the system and spread the tentacles even wider with each passing year. Having achieved economic prominence they finally also succeeded in attracting taxation of a different type from the ever vigilant National Workers. Events progressed from taxation to ransom kidnapping and killing which naturally caused severe panic within the ranks. Except for the ones who lost their lives, all the better known business houses in Dimapur hurriedly packed their bags and migrated to cities like Delhi and Kolkatta but they still play the same old games. The only difference is that they now operate in the state by remote control (we are in the electronic age after all) with only a skeletal staff tucked away in some insignificant corners to cater to the emergencies. I presume this will continue as an inalienable fixture in the lives of those at the helms of affair. Finding the light at the end of a dark long tunnel is not going to be a simple task. What was and what is?

Last month I was pleasantly surprised to know that the NBCC has finally woken up to notice the corruptive norm in the electoral process and has resolved to confront it head on. It’s about time. This is welcomed news. I sincerely hope that their effort will bear positive dividends. It is however important to honestly assess the quality of the flock that are being called upon to bear this difficult assignment for a serious and realistic reform. The election environment is akin to a wild disorganized circus that seems to bring out the worst in a people. Poor Mr. Christianity and Mr. Decency along with all their other good quality cousins gets thrown out the church window in more cases than not. The average members of the congregation who conform the voting population, have the tendency of locking up God in their ancestral trunk for the duration of the election. The flock then goes blatantly crazy as they venture on a quest for the highest bidder for his/her vote as a swine would looks for …you know what. There are still many others who take what comes around from all the contestants,  flip a coin if he/she has one, to finally vote for no one… a sudden prick of conscience. The Pastors, the Deacons and the Deaconess would not be too far behind their congregation, diplomatically ensuring that they do not leave much for the candidate or his agent to guess what they have in mind. Praying to the Good Lord for manna from heaven usually gets fulfilled by the candidate(s), and they kneel to thank the Good Lord for the hearing his/her prayers. Thank heavens we believe in a patient God otherwise the population to Nagaland would greatly be reduced after each election. Unfortunately election process is not over in a day. What amazes me most is after all the hectic ‘not so appropriate’ pastime in weekdays, what do the Pastors, the Deacons, Deaconess and congregation say to their locked up God when Sundays come around. Forgive my candid observation of the Church in action during the election time. I have only painted the picture that I have seen firsthand. This is not an attempt to implicate the Christians or the Mission functionaries as being questionable across the board. There definitely are many stable God fearing people including the Mission workers out there for sure, but I’m afraid they would hardly measure up to 3 or 4 at most on a scale of 10. Reforming the remainder is going to be a very tough ask. Our Church leaders should prioritize the need to urgently sensitize its key field workers at the grassroots. Follow through with a mass awareness campaign in appropriate centers of all the Districts and generate a committed resolve to do the upright thing in the name of Our God …HE should not be locked up this time round. The Church could also interact with all the Legislators to see how far they are willing to trust one another and reduce the cost of election which they themselves perpetuate. 

Otherwise we will get a Government we deserve.

Khekiye K. Sema IAS (Rtd)
Forest Colony, Kohima
E-mail: kksema@rediffmail.com