When the first few of our returnees tested positive, it was assumed that our people would go into a high-voltage panic mode but fortunately it didn’t happen. What did happen is our Government going into that high-voltage panic mode. Perhaps not surprisingly either because it knew exactly where it stood in terms of preparedness. Besides all that had happened and have been said about our Government’s preparedness, what really further exposed this myth of the Government’s preparedness was the Tuensang episode. Needless to recount what happened in and with the Government after that since everything is in the public realm, and despite our Chief Minister expressing “regret”. However it must be said that from the little gleaning of what appears to have happened within and without the COVID War Room, the decision to send those returnees to Tuensang seems to be more of a political decision than a bureaucratic one. So perhaps while everyone feels strongly that officials were responsible for the Tuensang episode and have demanded that responsibility be fixed and heads must roll, it is actually the political heads that must roll ~ for bureaucrats are much too smart to make decisions that goes against SoPs and act on their own without say-so by politicos. Therefore, the focus should be on the politicos, who instructed/directed/ordered bureaucrats to send these returnees to Tuensang. It is pointless to bark up the wrong tree.
A similar thing happened on June 3 ~ a positive person was sent to Peren district along with many others from Dimapur. The difference here is that the Health authorities of Dimapur district have owned responsibility and stated they made a mistake for which they have expressed regret. So, clearly here no fingers can be pointed at a political decision. However, in this case a political decision is also possible for which the Dimapur health authorities have made themselves the fall guys. We will probably know the inside story in time or will probably never know it. But if you remember, in the Tuensang episode, it was not the Kohima health authorities that have taken the responsibility and expressed regret but the Chief Minister himself. That appears to speak volumes about the political decision to send returnees to Tuensang. On the other hand, being the head of the Government, the buck stops with the Chief Minister so he is obliged to express regret and there is not much to read between the lines here. Anyway, in all this, one thing appears to be certain ~ it was not the Chief Minister, not even the Cabinet that took the decision to send returnees to Tuensang. So, who took this decision? And, why is the Chief Minister and the Cabinet apparently shielding the person ~ possibly an unelected politico ~ who took this decision to send returnees to Tuensang? If we are serious about fixing responsibility, this is the person we need to gun for. After all, how far do we think we can go without truth, justice, transparency and accountability?
Now, it has certainly come as a major surprise when our Government announced that the Tourist Lodge, Dimapur, would be converted into the district’s second COVID Hospital. Why? Why when we have so many well established private hospitals? Even in neighbouring Assam and Manipur, private hospitals have been requisitioned to fight the pandemic. Surprising, when in fact Nagaland’s second BSL is being set up at a private hospital at Dimapur. So, shouldn’t the district’s second COVID hospital be set up in this hospital? Indeed, this too appears to be a very mythical and mysterious affair. Anyway, why the Tourist Lodge? The Tourist Lodge as a quarantine centre is okay but as a COVID hospital? Clearly, our Government seems to have run out of rhymes and reasons for its decisions and actions. But then this is not really surprising because our Government seems to function on the basis of the pulls and pressures from NGOs and civil societies, as well as some stake-holders of the private sector, to which our Government seems beholden some way or the other. In fact, I have written over the past 15 years or so in my Editorials that our successive Governments during this period have out-sourced, even surrendered, governance to NGOs and civil societies and now it appears it to be truer than ever.
As compared to some Northeastern states, Nagaland still has a very manageable number of positive cases and our health front-liners are very capable of handling these cases ~ provided they are armed with all necessary wherewithal. So, we really have nothing to fear ~ as long as we also follow all SoPs and protocols to safeguard ourselves. However, if our Government is not decisive about these SoPs and protocols but instead prioritize politics and appeasement tactics over public health, we are looking at a severely sorry situation in the days to come. For instance, testing is crucial to stem this pandemic and we have a very low rate of testing. Everybody understands the constraints vis-à-vis issues related to testing in Nagaland therefore our Government’s focus must be on more testing capacity, especially for returnees. And our returnees are not as many as in some of our neighbouring states. The whole thing boils down to one thing ~ our Government’s COVID management policy. Does it have one? Till the time our Government has a COVID management policy, we will see many more Tuensangs and Perens.
But all this is not to say that our districts, our health, police, sanitation and so many other front-liners, including churches, village councils, colony leaders, NGOs and civil societies are not going all out to fight the pandemic. In fact, in the face of our Government baulking from taking the leadership, they are the ones who are holding the fort. However, this doesn’t mean that our Government ought to, or need to, surrender governance to them or for them to take over governance from the Government ~ and worse still dictate governance to the Government. But as is human nature ~ give an inch and a mile would be taken. So, if the Government gives in even half an inch miles would be taken and that is exactly what we see happening. Our Government needs to own and deliver governance ~ not be circumscribed by sections outside the Government systems and structures and allow them to hold it at ransom for whatever reason(s).
Unfortunately it is not just this pandemic but for every other reason(s), our successive Governments in over the past 15 years have allowed itself to be held at ransom by all kind of organizations in matters of governance, in matters of upholding Constitutional guarantees and in matters of social and civil justice, rights and liberties, etc. These issues must be underscored because the pandemic involves all these issues and bring them to the forefront in some form or the other ~ this is happening across the globe and Nagaland is still a part of the globe. Against the background of the pandemic in Nagaland, what is encouraging is our people speaking out and exercising their right to speech and expression. This is a major shift in a tribal society like ours, which has always been shackled to the manacles of tribal domination ~ politically, economically, socially and culturally. Today, individuals are thinking, writing and airing rational and informed opinions and views regarding numerous issues without allowing tribal, political and cultural narratives colour their judgments. To be sure, we also have a lot of downright irrational and prejudicial opinions and views, which democracies must accommodate too but maturity demands discernment. We must thank technology for helping us unshackle ourselves from the so-called mainstream tribal, political and cultural narratives and enable the buds of a vibrant liberal democracy to emerge. This will not be comfortable to our existing tribal, political and cultural power centres, which anyway share the same roots, but augers well for a more open-minded, tolerant and unautocratic democracy to bloom and thrive in Nagaland. The fact is, for any democratically ethical and ethically democratic power centre and leadership to survive and thrive, such openness and liberalism is fundamental. The pandemic is certainly another test for the maturity and wisdom of our present tribal, political and cultural leaderships. In fact, to take Nagaland beyond the present circle and cycle of leaderships, we need to deconstruct and reconstruct the decades-old tribal, political and cultural power centres in the post-pandemic world that could possibly look like nothing we have ever seen or imagined. And in this post-pandemic world too, silence wouldn’t be an option.