The Corrosion of Naga Society

Oliver Goldsmith (1728-1774) was an Irish novelist, play-writer and poet and he wrote some of the most celebrated novels, plays and poems of the 18th century. But apart from his novels, plays and poems, Goldsmith is also most remembered for being the architect of some of the most profound proverbs of all times. Over the years I have been touched, inspired and influenced by many profound proverbs uttered by various historical figures from diverse cultures, backgrounds, societies, circumstances and eras. And one of my all time favourite proverbs is attributed to Oliver Goldsmith. Oliver Goldsmith said “where wealth accumulates, men decay” and today I want to reflect on this quote of Goldsmith in the context of the present Naga society.  

There was a time in the past when the Nagas were known for their honesty, their loyalty, their sense of gratitude, dignity of labour and reverence of the spirits. But all these seem to be things of the past now. After India invaded our land and Indian currency started pouring unabated into our land, things took a drastic change for the worse. Now, vigorous amassment of wealth by hook or by crook has become the No.1 thing in our land and all other things (including the pursuit of God, truth and justice) seem to have taken a backseat. Yes, amassment of wealth has become the biggest profession for most Nagas today. Indeed, Goldsmith was not wrong when he said “where wealth accumulates, men decay”.  

Our mathematics teachers tell us that 2 plus 2 is 4. But for a politician or a bureaucrat in Nagaland, 2 plus 2 can be anything. It can be 10, 100, 1000, 10 lakhs or it can be even 10000 crores. We do not know how our politicians fared in mathematics while in schools and colleges. But once they become politicians they all become experts in calculations - be it addition, subtraction, multiplication or division. They learn to keep proper accounts of what they should ask from Delhi, how much is to be passed to their subordinates for the assigned task just for apparent sake, how much is to be divided and how much is to be multiplied. They all become masters of misappropriation within no time. If there is also a Noble Prize for persons who excel in this kind of misappropriation, I am sure some Nagas would have won the prize already.  

Whenever any sort of calamity hits any part of the state, those at the helm of affairs are super fast in preparing the casualty report. They are so smart that they can come up with the report even without visiting the place or consulting anybody from the effected area. If the number of casualty is 10, they would report that it is 100, if the number of household affected is 40 they would write that it is 70 and if the number of villages effected is 20 they would write that it is 50. They would do so because the higher the casualty the greater would be the amount released by Delhi. Yes indeed, “where wealth accumulates, men decay”.  

If a bridge collapses or a road is damaged, those at the helm would be quick to make the estimate for the repair work. Even if they know very well that Rs.20 lakhs would be enough for the work, they would demand Rs.50 lakhs citing this and that reason in their estimate report. And once the amount is sanctioned, they would carry out a mediocre repair using cheap and sub-standard materials and create a make-believe scenario as if the money sanctioned for the work has been fully utilized to the last penny. But at the most, the amount actually spent on the repair work will be hardly one-fourth of the sanctioned amount. And as for the leftover balance, the Naga style of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division comes into play. And if you do not know these things, you are not smart and you will never rise in present Naga society. Yes, that is the mentality now. And we no longer see anything wrong in this sort of calculations because it is the normal thing to do as corruption has become a way of life here for all of us.  

Our politicians (our so-called representatives) are supposed to cater to every needs and requirements of the people and for this enough money is sanctioned regularly by Delhi. But I am sad to say that our so-called representatives are all businessmen first and foremost before being anything. Yes, most of them are sitting in the chair only to do business and make profit for themselves and their families. On being elected, their first task is to recover the expenditures endured during the election. And after this they set about amassing wealth (both movable and immovable). Building a big and posh house in Kohima is a must if they don’t already have one in Kohima. And if they already have a house in Kohima, then they would want a house built in Dimapur as well. And if they already own houses in Kohima and Dimapur, then they would set about building a fancy house in their native villages because they want to be the owner of the most prominent house in their village. Or why just be satisfied with houses, some of them are even owners of grand hotels and commercial complexes.  

Once they are in power, just a mere bank account in Nagaland or India might not be enough and they may have to open accounts in Singapore, Bangkok etc to store their unaccounted money safely. But we need to remember that the world may have enough for everybody’s need but not for everybody’s greed. And as they are fully engrossed in this amassment business, the need to work for the public is nowhere near their mind. Yes, ‘where wealth accumulates men decay’.  

Talking about proverbs, let us also recall what Gandhi said. The great man said “an eye for an eye will make the whole world blind”. The profound truth of this quote is also very vividly reflected in the present Naga society. We have become so greedy, so self-centered, so arrogant, so impatient and so vengeful in our pursuit of wealth that we have lost sight of the real issues that should be actually bothering us. Our bridges have collapsed, our roads are in shambles, the monsoon renders many people homeless and many are literally living without livelihood and on the verge of starvation clinging on to dear life by just a thin string. But still, our people at the helms of affairs who should be having sleepless nights over these matters are confined to their AC rooms making deals amongst themselves and hatching plans to dislodge and pull down the ones who are blocking their way to power and easy money. So, haven’t they become blind to the real issues?  

I guess most of our politicians (past and present) are already so rich that they can easily live out the rest of their lives without working again even for a single day. But the irony is that most are still hungry for more as there seems to be no limit to their hunger for power, money and fame. But we need to realize that the whole world is not ours for the taking. We need to leave something for others also and especially for posterity. And life is also not just about ‘taking’ but also about ‘giving’. And here, the ‘giving’ part is actually much more significant than the ‘taking’ part. As the saying goes, “a man makes a living by what he gets but he makes a life by what he gives”. I wonder whether this kind of proverbs will ever ring a bell in the hearts of our so-called Naga leaders who are at the helms of affairs today in our society. But whether it rings a bell in their hearts or not, my part as a messenger is to pass on the message and so I will continue to do so whether anybody listens or not.  

Another point to ponder about is this. Most of our guys who are at the helms of affairs today are already in their sunset of life. Most of them are already in their 60s while some have even crossed 70, so how long are they going to be around here? Fifteen-twenty years from now, most of them would not even be around and so they also need to think about the things that would matter beyond the grave on the other side. The money they make today, the massive lands they own today, the big mansions where they live today and the fancy cars which ferry them today would do them no good once they go beyond the grave.  

Today virtues like gratitude, loyalty, honesty, hard-work, dignity of labour etc seem to have totally vanished from the vocabulary and dictionary of most Nagas. In the past, these virtues were our honour and pride. But today, in our blind pursuit of easy money and wealth, these virtues have been trampled upon mercilessly because we feel that these have become obsolete and we feel we would never move forward if we cling on to these. And the main agent for this mentality is undoubtedly the inflow of easy money into our land making us believe that we don’t need to live by these virtues anymore. So Oliver Goldsmith was not wrong after-all when he said “where wealth accumulates, men decay”…..