Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Elephant in the corner

Public acclaim is such a capricious thing, even more so in the case of a politician. Yet, other than power, this is what they aspire most. We cannot say for certain if this pursuit of popular approval indeed qualifies as a political vice ~ such is the wafer-thinness of the line that demarcates vice from virtue in politics. How else do we explain the brigade of Nagaland politicians barraging us daily with their copied-and-pasted philosophical musings on every social media platform? Is there even a limit to pandering? Why else would a Minister self-caricature his way into the keyboards of more-than-happy-to-accommodate national media content writers? If such is their desperation, then needs must they value and treasure it greatly. Which, then, brings us to a young ~ though most definitely not a greenhorn ~ politician currently bathing in the warmth of public acclaim. The Naga People’s Front (NPF) Legislator representing Bhandari constituency, Achumbemo Kikon, appears to have started for himself quite a chatter ~ of the good kind. The former NSF President’s conduct and oration in the current session of Nagaland Legislative Assembly have won him the kind of popular acclaim that most of his peers in the NLA appear incapable of acquiring ~ the organic kind. By any measure, these are still very early days and we must temper the initial impressions with a generous dose of caution. Especially when it comes to politicians. But for now, Kikon has managed to impress the people simply by standing up for them. (A memo to the rest of the NLA members: it is that easy, really). One of the things that stood out during his questioning of governmental apathy towards victims of wild elephant attacks was the part where he lamented the lack of attention to such incidents occurring in places considered remote. As tasteless and tactless as the Forest Minister’s attempt to downplay the deaths caused by elephant attacks was, his attitude and approach betrayed a collective position. Imagine if such a tragedy were to happen in the vicinity of Dimapur, Chümoukedima or Niuland. Or Medziphema and Kohima. Not only would the response be immediate but also the attention and the interest stretch for a considerably longer period. The latter assumes significance because it leaves the door open for sustained and meaningful conversation around human-wildlife conflict. Because as neglected as the incidents are, confrontations with wild elephants are nevertheless annual rituals in some parts of the State. Though (fortunately) not all confrontations are fatal, there are always trails of destruction: uprooted paddy, wrecked farm houses and plantations laid to waste. Such venturing of wild elephants never ends on a cheerful note. Despite continued success in other conservation areas, such incidents are reminders that turning a blind eye to the delicate issue of wild elephants is a costly mistake. While it is evident that continuous human-wildlife conflict is bound to end in disastrous circumstances, it is also worth acknowledging that the burden of conservation mismanagement generally tends to fall on those members of the communities that are deprived of access to economic opportunities. It is easy to root for the successes of an improved wildlife situation from the comfort of one’s urban setting, but perhaps a little thought towards those who must engage in this battle continually would not go amiss. The question should never be about the advantage accorded to one particular aspect at the expense of the other. It is undoubtedly a delicate balance to achieve. Conservation at the cost of displacing an existing human habitation is also not a solution to an ever-increasing crisis. Conflicts between humans and wildlife have been part and parcel of our existence. While it is understood that there can be no permanent solution, we still need to focus on minimising future conflicts. And in order to achieve that, the authorities should begin by reaching out to those who are directly affected by such attacks ~ regardless of their proximity or remoteness from the power centres.