Saturday, April 1, 2023

Invoking, perpetuating and reviving a myth

Monalisa Changkija
On April 29 (Friday), 21 NPF MLAs, out of 25,defected to the NDPP, which the Nagaland Assembly Speaker’s office termed as a “merger”. However, although these NPF MLAs defected or “merged”, the NPF remains intact albeit reduced by 21 MLAs in the State Assembly. Now, whether the April 29 political event was a defection or a merger ~ we will leave to the constitutional experts to enlighten us. Meanwhile, the reason why the 21 NPF MLAs defected to the NDPP is ostensibly tied to the Naga Political Issue (NPI). That is the very same reason, which was also cited for the formation of the United Democratic Alliance (UDA) opposition-less Government of Nagaland last July.
In the earlier months of the 2021, the NPF was going all gung-ho against the ruling NDPP-BJP coalition Government vis-à-vis corruption on various aspects and issues of governance ~ not least the enormous amount of Central funds allocated to Nagaland for COVID-19 management. Oh, for a about a month, the NPF hogged all front-page space in our local Dailies. This evoked hope that finally the NPF will shoulder its constitutional responsibility as an efficient and effective opposition and hold the State Government accountable and make it responsible and responsive to the people. Then suddenly there was a complete conspicuous silence from the NPF battlement. However, because sometimes one step backward is crucial for two steps forward, the people waited patiently ~ only to be responded with great disappointment once again. All the NPF legislators joined hands with the NDPP-BJP alliance to form the United Democratic Alliance (UDA) and all mis-governance of the NDPP-BJP People’s Democratic Alliance (PDA) was forgotten ~ perhaps even forgiven.
Some say that the NPF legislators couldn’t go all the way with mis-governance and corruption issues because it is unwise to throw stones from a glass house. Some say, Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio was always wary of the BJP and was getting fed up with the BJP constantly looking over his shoulder and subtly ‘remote-controlling’ him ~ ergo on a hunt. We will probably never know the real story but all these wheeling and dealing amongst the NDPP, BJP and the NPF that have now culminated in 21 NPF legislators defecting to the NDPP unambiguously indicate that while the prize is always power and plump portfolios, Rio also appears to be insecure and not very confident about the scheduled State Assembly election early next year. After all, the recent Assembly elections in Manipur is a grim reminder ~ and possibly a harbinger of things that could happen to regional parties. Only problem is the number of the present Nagaland legislators being re-elected ~ because while these legislators are playing their own games, the rest of the State political firmament isn’t laying fallow.
But that’s another story. For now, let us look at the reason political parties and politicians cite for their political shenanigans, which is the NPI. So, ostensibly the NPF joined hands with the NDPP-BJP alliance last July to form the opposition-less UDA Government to push the Naga political issue forward.
Now the other day, 21 NPF MLAs defected to the NDPP to bring an early settlement to the NPI. So then the need arises for some kind of an analysis of the role of the State Assembly and the legislators collectively or individually on the NPI. That the Assembly represents the will of the people and the will of the people is the resolution of the NPI hence the Nagaland Assembly has passed several resolution towards this end since the 1960s is undeniable. Also undeniable is that since statehood in 1963, the State Assembly as a collective body of legislators, as also individual legislators have made little or no headway towards this issue. So, the question is how much could they have contributed ~ or let’s say “facilitated” to “move forward” the NPI. And, how much can they do the same now? Having sworn on the Constitution of India ~ technically not much. Moreover, they are also not party to the negotiations between the Government of India (GoI) and the Naga groups, including the NSCN (IM).
Besides, after we objectively peel off the layers one by one, keeping in mind that the GoI will not compromise on sovereignty, secession, flag and constitution and have repeatedly said so, what remains is power-sharing or not sharing power. That basically appears to be the dichotomy between the NSCN (IM) and the NNPGs vis-à-vis the State of Nagaland and to an extent, the Naga-inhabited areas of neighbouring States. Now, when a deal is done with these groups and the GoI, our political parties will be threatened. And it is this threat and the accompanying insecurity that is apparently making our legislators scramble for “unity”. Things are uncertain now and there is no saying whether the status quo will remain in place ~ uncertainty often clouds judgment and makes people do strange things.
Now, the GoI have also been very clear that there will be only one solution. It is also undeniable that our legislators have been interacting with Naga groups on unity ~ or least a consensus amongst these groups. But we see no results as these groups’ stances are quite deeply entrenched. Even Assam’s Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma was brought in but he too haven’t been able to do much ~ or anything at all. He probably did more to ensure that his party thrives better in Nagaland. Anyway, the fact is that political parties and legislators collectively or individually can do little or nothing on the NPI ~ as things stand now. Therefore, we must take whatever these 21 defectors or any other legislators say on the NPI with a generous dose of salt ~ well simply because they are not inside the boxing ring.
So yes, whenever our political parties and personalities invoke the NPI as time draws near Assembly elections, it is a myth they are invoking. This is also exactly how the BJP sees things when it supports all kinds of committees our State legislators form to “facilitate” the resolution of the NPI. Knowing fully-well that Nagaland legislators are not party to the negotiation, the GoI and by extension the BJP, however doesn’t want to upset its electoral apple cart in Nagaland should nothing come out of the talks before the State elections. After all, one never knows when friends and allies would be needed before elections. So, all political parties “unite” to propagate and perpetuate this myth.
This myth is also always revived and given a fresh lease of life before elections most possibly because our political parties ~ regional and national ~ really have nothing to speak for themselves. Whatever development that have taken place in Nagaland are basically Central Government policies, programmes, projects and schemes funded by the GoI through the DoNER, NEC, etc. We are yet to see any Nagaland Government funded policies, programmes, projects and schemes, except perhaps in the areas of music and festivals, which are again re-routed from Central funds. Corruption is another issue our politicians have no stomach to talk about much less tackle. As for policy-making, our Governments ~ consisting of more or less the same legislators ~ haven’t been able to do without “consulting” our NGOs and civil societies since 2003, further exposing themselves as clueless. So, less said the better.
So, although the rest of the State political firmament isn’t laying fallow, as said earlier, hopefully whether resolution to the NPI will happen or things remain the same, we are in for another round of repetitive developments in our under-ground, over-ground and middle-ground political firmament. Much, of course, will depend on the people and our perceptions, perspectives and understanding of democracy we inherited from our colonial past and how much we can circumvent it to allow our tradition notions of democracy superimpose on the Indian constitutional democracy.
(The Columnist, a journalist and poet, is Editor, Nagaland Page, in whose column titled Primary Motifs these views were published in Assam Tribune on May 9, 2022)