Friday, April 19, 2024

Calling out

For a while now, some villages in Mokokchung district have been dominating the precious space between newspaper columns ~ occupying the front pages, especially of Nagaland Page. The way some sections of our Naga society have been structured, it is not very difficult for village councils or traditional organisations to impose their own versions of the code of omerta. And for the longest time, they have been successful. This ‘success’, however, is achieved not because of the strength of these institutions. They succeed because of weaknesses elsewhere. Villages in some districts, including Mokokchung, have long adopted the practice of selecting what they call a ‘consensus candidate’ for every Assembly election in the State. This is an old trick, hardly a secret. And the Government has allowed it to flourish because, in the end, it is the beneficiary. Government is formed by the elected representatives. And the process of electing some of those representatives, sadly, includes the selection of ‘consensus candidate’ by villages. While it is the village councils that take the decision (and get the bad rap), in almost all the instances, the real influences behind the decision are the bureaucrats, officers, contractors and the big shots living in the urban centres of Dimapur and Kohima. They are the unseen but all-powerful force that determines the final outcome. That is why the repeated violation of the constitutional right to vote ~ given to every citizen aged 18 and above in India ~ has continued in the State for decades. Centres of power ~ political, social and even cultural ~ that exists in Nagaland have colluded to enable this practice to thrive. The claim is that choosing a ‘consensus candidate’, conversely, entails a decision for the common good. But there is a reason why it is called an election, not selection. Meanwhile, punishments for dissidents vary: expulsion (some temporary, some permanent), ex-communication, sundry number of pigs as a penalty. Sometimes, the ‘disobedient’ ones are simply thrashed. This is the tragic backdrop to some of the disturbing news to have emerged from Mokokchung district recently. On December 5, the Kohima Bench of Gauhati High Court issued an interim order suspending, among others, the decision of Mongsenyimti Village to allow only one citizen from the village to contest the forthcoming elections from 24 Angetyongpang Assembly Constituency. This was after a petition against the decision was filed in the Court. Now it has emerged that the petitioner has been declared no longer a citizen of Mongsenyimti Village and barred from entering the territorial jurisdiction of the village. This was preceded by a similar case involving Chungtia Village. On October 27, the Court heard a petition filed by a man challenging his village’s decision to select a ‘consensus candidate’ for the coming Assembly elections from 28 Koridang Assembly Constituency. The Council had warned anyone going against the decision would be penalised with 7 pigs. The two instances have found newspaper coverage because those in disagreement have decided to knock on the doors of the Court. At the same time, it can be assumed that many more have escaped coverage and scrutiny because the price of saying no is too costly, with hardly any guaranteed safeguards. The more-than-decade-old Clean Election Campaign in the State, a worthy pursuit notwithstanding, is still struggling to gain any significant ground. Even in urban centres, the run-up to the next elections has been paved with a never-ending series of sports meets, tournaments, youth events, cultural exchanges, etc. Even press releases on music events have introduced us to ‘intending candidates’. Differentiated by names but united by purpose: to reach out to prospective voters through sponsorship and other means. Brace for more in the coming days and months. We cannot and should not look at contravention of clean election principles with one eye closed. All infringements of clean election principles ~ any activity that appears dubious, whether in rural or urban areas ~ must be called out for exactly what they are.