Without addressing cash for votes, democracy can't flourish in Nagaland
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In 2023, Nagaland entered the 59th year of its election history, first conducted in February 1964. It was the 16th state of the Indian union to get statehood, much ahead of many states we have today. Considering the 60 years of its statehood, one could wrongly assume that Nagaland may be among the country’s most advanced states. The reality, however, is quite disappointing.

Given its potential in terms of the state’s natural and human resources, the state is unable to sustain itself independently. The state lags in every aspect: infrastructure, health sector, unemployment, education sector, sports, economy, etc. This article intends to examine the political leadership in the state with a special focus on the dominance of money power in the state’s election. It will also examine how capable the leaders we are electing today, in facing the challenges of the 21st century. 

Over the years, we have seen that the question of leadership often gets subsumed under the wealth or money of the political parties and the candidates. At a time when Nagaland needs visionary leadership for the development, the dominance of money power does not allow new capable leadership to come up.

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The manner in which money plays the most crucial role in electing a candidate in Nagaland is extremely saddening. This is not only worrisome but also life-threatening to our societal existence. The danger is the usage of money power during elections later becomes the core factor for political corruption. A Naga thinker, Dr Visier, stated “we have reached the bottom line where we cannot go lower than this. He adds: “the only way out is a social revolution.” 

On the question of Nagaland state moving away from the dominance of money in elections, Dr Vinusa, a Naga thinker from the Hyderabad Central University stated: “it may not be possible anytime soon unless there’s a revolution. He further adds that we’re in a sorry state of affairs today.” 

The dominance of money culture that we are witnessing today in the state is not a recent phenomenon. The seeds of corruption had been sown in the past decades of leadership in the state. What we are witnessing today is the harvesting of what was sown in the past leaderships.

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Combined with this is the legacy of the past decades of leadership practices where nepotism played an important role in shaping the polity. Nepotism combined with money power created a vested interest in the Naga society which became an obstruction to the holistic development of the state. For a new leadership to emerge, a relentless struggle to combat this legacy has to be waged. This is the challenge ahead of us in building a new leadership in the Naga society. 

The Election Commission of India (ECI) recently stated that it is seriously concerned about the increasing use of money power in elections. It further stated that it has adopted various measures to curb the menace of money power in elections. It would be interesting to undertake a study on its effectiveness in tackling this problem, especially in the context of Nagaland.

If ECI is as serious as stated in tackling this issue, why does the use of money keep increasing in every election? Why does money keep playing a decisive role in elections in the state?

Looking at the latest statistics of candidates’ wealth, it seems a much greater force of money is coming back in the 2023 elections. The study revealed that out of 184 candidates, 116 are crorepatis i.e. 63%. One candidate of Lok Janshakti Party (Ram Vilas) topped the list of crorepati candidates with assets worth over Rs 160 crore, followed by the sitting Chief Minister with 46 crore from the NDDP. The findings are based on the affidavits submitted by candidates to the Election Commission of India (ECI). 

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These findings underscore the extent to which money plays a significant role in political party nominations and as well as in getting elected. Talking about the prevailing corrupt system in the state, one may wonder how the menace of money power has enveloped the Naga society over the last few decades which was once famous for its honesty and integrity.

Dr Phyobenthung Odyuo, a political scientist stated, “Since people are not politically conscious, they do not let their elected representatives be accountable for the misuse of public money.” He further stated: “common people take money in return for their votes as they do not have any confidence in getting help after voting the candidates to power. Hence, people prefer taking money when opportunities are around during elections instead of looking for help after the election, which is uncertain.” 

Looking at the analysis given above, it appears wealth and leadership have become closely linked in the Naga society. Even the masses seem to have developed a mindset that leadership is all about being rich and only rich and wealthy people can contest elections.

Dr Vinusa opined: “there’s no leadership future for genuine leaders to rise up tomorrow. The relationship between money and politics has become stronger than brotherhood even.” He further stated that there is a need for an alliance between the church and intellectuals to bring about the needed paradigm shift. Another Naga thinker, Dr Walunir is of the opinion that “most Nagas thrive on easy money. The easy money comes from many government employees who get their salaries without even going to the office for years. The candidates get easy money from public funds, public schemes, and projects: deductions, undone projects, etc.” 

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He further stated that unless we keep a mechanism to check corruption, the dominance of money in elections will remain in Nagaland. Dr Phyobenthung stated that only when people are politically conscious then we can expect to move away from the present culture of the dominance of money in politics. Because a politically enlightened person knows their rights, hence they can question leaders for any misuse of public funds, etc. A well-recognised social activist, Jonas Yanthan expressed that “it is very challenging to curtail the influence of money in elections through legislation. It is only through public education and public enlightenment that one can check this influence, and especially by creating awareness on citizens’ rights and responsibilities.” 

The issues and challenges stated above by some thinkers are a clear indication of leadership failure in the state. Therefore, there is an urgent need to stimulate a public debate on these issues. Most money that comes into the elections is from corrupt money as stated by Dr Walunir and this evil influence of money power is eroding public faith in the system. Hence the elections we are having in the state are not a true indicator of democracy. 

Also Read: Demand for separate states vs failure of governance in Northeast

The evidence of money power playing a major role in determining the shape and result of the election is worrisome and threatening for our future generation. Even election expenses are increasing year by year, and the common man finds it impossible to contest in elections. The whole point of a progressive political process is to empower the common man to both participate and take up leadership roles in society. This just does not seem to be happening.

This is a serious concern for all conscious minds as we are going to leave behind a terrible legacy for the future generation of our society. One may ask whether this is the main reason why Naga society has not progressed as it should have. What would be our future ahead if money continues to be the dominant factor in the state’s election? It means Nagas will continue to elect bad leaders. The threatening part is, bad leaders will be more of a liability. Because bad leadership means slow progress, wrong planning, and wrong decisions and will only create much more negative impacts on societal growth. 

We have to also understand that leadership isn’t just only about having great ideas: leadership is the ability to deliver results even in the face of adversity, and knowing where to dedicate your and other people’s energy. In fact, the very essence of leadership is to have a vision and inspire members of society to pursue their dreams. Good leaders also take on responsibility, but they also know when to let go of responsibility and delegate to others.

The world today in general and particularly Naga society is passing through very challenging times. The challenges are the rise of educated unemployed, mental health, climate change, poverty, globalisation, quality education, medical facilities, population, droughts, food security, gender equality, lack of sports infrastructure, etc. Most of these challenges are the result of a corrupt system in the state and also political unrest.

For addressing and uprooting these challenges, we need to find capable leaders. Today’s challenges are qualitatively different from the challenges of the past. While issues like infrastructure, quality education, health, unemployment, or poverty were present in earlier times also but in today’s context they are shaped by the dynamics of information and communication society. This means thinking anew about these challenges. 

Unfortunately, today’s scenario has become so vulnerable, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous. It has brought challenges without precedent in human history. We are faced with uncertainty like the Covid pandemic that suddenly shocked the entire world. Addressing challenges of uncertainty requires a fundamental transformation of leadership and followership because the leadership styles that worked in the past are insufficient to face the current situation.

The leadership models that generated results in the past were addressing problems and situations of a different and less complex nature. As Albert Einstein said insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. It would be insane to repeat the models that were useful in the past when we have this different scenario in front of us. 

In today’s fast-paced environment, Nagas need a sustainable leadership paradigm for the present and the future needs to generate the capabilities not only to survive but to thrive in the digital era. It will require three pillars: values-based leadership, network leadership, and a systemic resiliency model in order to adapt to the changing and chaotic circumstances we are faced with today.

The question is, how often have we thought about this? Are the Naga leaders equipped with the leadership capabilities or competencies of the 21st century? Are we confident that the leaders that we are electing today are capable of leading our society in the new century of the digital era?

Also Read: Election 2023: Is Nagaland ready to elect its first woman MLA?

We must remember that leadership has paramount importance in contemporary times because, with the help of efficient leadership, the Naga society will face all the problems efficiently. Our society needs leaders with constructive vision who can provide answers to these questions that further help leaders to imagine the future, especially during periods of uncertainty and transition.

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Finally, it may be concluded that in the current Naga society, there is an urgent need for political actors to build a public sphere where a participatory involvement of the people can be brought about.

People have to be agents of their own change. This requires a move away from money to harnessing the cooperative spirit of society and the voluntary involvement of the people in developmental processes. This in turn means that the political process has to move away from the dominance of money power and bogus voting scenarios to creative means of mobilising people for the purposes mentioned above. In this present time, Nagas need efficient leaders who have strategic and critical thinking capabilities, quickly gather information, process it efficiently, and use it in executing and solving the issues and challenges and also visualise the future ahead of us. Clearly, this requires building new leadership skills to address the challenges of the 21st century. 

The author is a professor, School of Social Sciences, IGNOU, New Delhi, and former president of the Naga Scholars’ Association (NSA). Views expressed are personal.

Also Read: Seizing cash during elections vs the political parties behind them

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