Of election, governance, and change in Nagaland

Tsutsowe Kupa

“Change we can believe in,” read the catchphrase on the speaker’s stand, as also on the placards of the cheering supporters of Barack Obama, an Illinois senator and Democratic presidential hopeful, who is seeking to be the first Black president of America. Mr. Obama, with his slogan of “stand for change” and his resonating message of “hope and unity”, has galvanized and appealed to a wide spectrum of Democratic voters – not only of Black but also of a huge chunk of White, especially the younger generation – in the primaries to the presidential election to be held in November. American presidential election provides interesting insights: the presidential hopefuls from both parties – Democrats and Republicans – enter a marathon race, and, based on their competency, visions, declared policies, stump speeches, debates, and to an extent, their personality, the voters vet them before the eventual party nominee is readied for the big fight. The voters dutifully take part in the whole process, from day one till the big day of vote casting, and in that, the process is truly democratic. Further, the voters exercise ample freedom in electing their leader.

Contrast this with India’s parliamentary system of election or for that matter, our own State assembly election that has gained much currency. Money clout, muscle power, rigging, booth capturing, proxy voting, intimidation – these are what one would usually associate with elections. And, despite all the repeated assurance of a ‘free and fair’ election (which is a hallmark of democracy) by the Election Commission of India, it is anybody’s guess whether it will be really free and fair. Over the past several weeks, we have seen a plenitude of resignations and defections between different political parties; divorce between staunch cronies, and marriage between sworn opponents, only reinforcing the proverbial saying: “In politics, there are no permanent friends or foes; only permanent interests.” Indeed, so permanent is the interest that even our own active and wannabe politicians have not been able to escape from the infectious onslaught of ‘mushrooming’ national and regional parties such as BJP, RJD, JD (U), JD(S), and LJP, the ideological moorings of which they do not really subscribe to perhaps, but without which [baptism into party] their political flight cannot possibly take off. This, of course, is a patent example of opportunistic politics, and not unusual or surprising.

Then, there is this ‘alliance of convenience’ among political parties, ushering in an era of coalition governments. If one goes by past evidences or prevailing circumstances, coalition arrangement (pre- or post-election) appears inevitable, and this, despite its inherent weakness of ‘instability’ can countervail ‘despotism’ that is often attributed to in a single party government. However, what matter is that whichever government – Congress led or NPF led government – comes to power, it must deliver, and deliver they must, not only in words or on paper, but also in deeds and results. The so called “chair” of chief minister, ministers, and even of MLA’s, is a privileged chair. It is a seat of responsibility and accountability, and not of luxury or inaction. People vote a candidate to power with great expectations; the elected representative, in return, ought to do justice to the chair s/he occupy, and win the goodwill of the people.        

Common Minimum Programme
Common Minimum Programme (CMP), which has become the guiding plank of coalition governments, must be based on pragmatic and achievable programs. Clearly, the CMP should subsume: programs that impinges positively on the common man; policies that bring about perceptible improvement in all walks of life, and plans of action that contribute to the all round development of the State -- and, doable they must be because that’s the very raison de`tre of CMP. Politicians and parties electioneering would do well to articulate their visions, and to spell out their manifestoes in a lucid manner without necessarily having to propagate “clichéd” slogans of peace, prosperity, progress, development….. It is not unknown that our State suffers from the ubiquitous problem of power, roads, and water supply, apart from a host of other inextricable concerns on such fronts as unemployment, education, health, sanitation, human resource development, urban and rural development, industries, airlines, railways….., and the unresolved Naga political issue.

Power is a principal backbone on which an economy piggyback. Nagaland has been facing frequent power outages, primarily due to power deficiency, among other reasons. It is imperative therefore, that power augmentation is accorded “top” priority by the new political dispensation. And then, we have 21st century cars; but 20th century roads – a queer case of anachronism. Thanks to PR, there have been some visible facelift of roads in addition to the proposed four-lane construction of NH 39 and road repairing in other stretches of highways. As a necessary corollary, the Governor of Nagaland, K. Sankaranarayanan, must be commended for his sincere efforts therein. However, President’s Rule, although effective in the short term is not a long or medium term arrangement. Besides, it is neither feasible nor desirable.

Essentially, it is high time that the citizens of Nagaland demanded good governance: a government that is accountable, transparent, citizen-friendly, efficient, effective, and economic. There are, I’m sure, scores of people who are critical of the way things are going, and who would thus like to witness change and, if possible, become agents of change – but are somehow tolerant, indifferent, or are shackled for reasons, whatever. Also, there are many who happen to be helplessly at the mercy of their binding situation – whatever the situation – leaving little or no room for free expression or action. Or, they happen to be hapless victims of pecuniary constraints and this is arguably why they cannot militate against the power elite, or be vocal critics of wrongdoings.

Change – can we believe in? 
Having mentioned that, we can go back to the very “catchphrase” that had caught the imagination of millions of Americans. In our context, it should be read as: “Change – can we believe in?” We long for change; we’d want to move ahead with the rest of the world, and yet, it is not as easy or practicable as we would probably want to. We have this big gulf between our ideals and reality; between our aspirations and what is practiced in effect, and between what we say and what we actually do. Put simply, we have this “credibility gap”. Perhaps the forthcoming election is a small step towards a big leap; perhaps our voters will conscionably vote for ‘able’ statesmen; perhaps our leaders will shepherd us with clear visions, and perhaps, we can hope high and like Mr. Obama’s campaigners, say yes, we can….. we can believe in change. Uplifting? It remains to be seen however.