Thursday, January 28, 2021

Cleaning the stables

It is ironic and at the same time hilarious that our Governor has finally take serious note of “such criminal activities” ~ extortion ~ that is hindering road construction in Nagaland and asking the DGP to constitute a Highway Construction Protection Force (HCPF). Ironic, because it is an open secret that the criminal activity of extortion has been Nagaland’s most lucrative cottage industry for decades. Hilarious, because the HCPF is more like locking the door after the horses bolt, which is not unusual in Nagaland. A review meeting the Governor had with a host of senior Government and Security officials, along with NHIDCL officials and Contractors, on January 11 last, revealed that a significant reason for slow progress and compromised quality was rampant extortion by anti-social elements purportedly belonging to underground armed organization. But this cannot be a recent revelation because this serious criminal activity has also been going on for decades and all our roads are manifestations of extortion. Besides, for decades, the media has highlighted the very same exact “significant reason” so it’s not as if there is anything for anyone to be shocked. What would be shocking is if any quality infrastructure construction is done without any political interference and/or extortion. Naturally, contractors and those working on these road construction works will have undergone “harrowing experiences” because a gun pointed at one’s head is a traumatic existential occurrence. So then we must ask a very sensitive question: whether the Government of India or the armed underground organizations have discussed these “such criminal activities”, as well as the issue of decommissioning of arms of the latter during the past twenty-two years of parleys between the two sides. The two issues are necessarily and intrinsically linked to each other ~ for the power that flows from the barrel of the gun is incomparable to any other form of power. Also, when both sides talks about peace and an honourable settlement, there are two aspects that need focus. One, peace and an honourable settlement between the Government of India and the Naga armed underground organizations. Two, peace and an honourable settlement amongst the Naga people ~ mainly between the Naga armed underground organizations and the Naga people. It is amply evident that not all Nagas are on the same page with our numerous armed underground organizations for various reasons. One of them is the culture of fear that our armed underground organization perpetrates and perpetuates through the guns they wield ~ which also empowers them to indulge in “such criminal activities”. That for the first time a Government of India representative, none other less than our Governor, has taken serious note of “such criminal activities” and actually said so in so many words, as stated by a Raj Bhavan press release, is reassuring because so far the Government of India and/or any of its representatives or the State Government has not been known to have ever described extortion as a “serious criminal activity”. It is also reassuring that the Governor has now directed the DGP to set up a Special Investigative Team (SIT) for registration and focused investigation of all cases against such elements. So, now it is hoped that other forms of such criminal activities ~ particularly the extortion that goes on at our check-gates, commercial centres, etc. ~ will also be acknowledged as criminal activities and tackled as such. However, what about the commissions, cuts and kickbacks? Aren’t they also a form of extortion? Don’t they also adversely impact on quality and compromised infrastructure and other development works? What about backdoor appointments? Don’t they also adversely affect the quality and productivity of work related to governance related to human development? Corruption is, inarguably, a criminal activity ~ so while we are cleaning the stable, let’s not be selective. But the question is: who will do the cleaning? Having experienced the “quality and productivity” of our numerous State Governments, including the present one, nothing can be expected of them. So, while it is noteworthy that our Governor has recently exhorted the present Chief Minister and his colleagues to give a fillip to good governance, especially in areas related to health, education, social welfare, etc., the Governor himself will have to begin the process of cleaning the stable. And if need be, look beyond the government system to get the help he will need. The process of real peace for the people begins with so much more than merely the legalities of governance.