In 2017 a popular YouTube group Dreamz Unlimited from Nagaland uploaded a short satire called True Lies. The satire is a critique of the corrupt practices and immoral conduct associated with politics in general. It highlights the use of money power to secure votes and the politicians’ expensive foreign trips with their ‘secret families’ at the expense of the general public. One of the highlights of the satire is the moment when a politician goes against the anticipation of his voters and promises to build a good road. However, he is quick to retract by saying “just kidding!” after which his bewildered supporters erupt in joy and happiness.
Fast forward to 2022, another YouTube group BZ Entertainment in collaboration with the actors from Dreamz Unlimited released a short movie Losha. The mode of narrative is realistic and the rhythm of the storytelling is serious. There is a vast conceptual shift from True Lies in Losha. Instead of the joke about the politician's false promises to build a good road, we have an incident of a woman’s death in her labor due to a bad road. The comic antihero politician is replaced by an enigmatic aspiring politician who would resort to any means to secure a seat in the state legislative assembly. And this enigma is juxtaposed against the titular character Losha who is righteous and indomitable. The themes of corruption, underdevelopment and righteousness in these videos suggest that Nagaland is poised for election again.
Quite parallel to the discourse of anticorruption in popular media is the campaign for ‘Clean Election’. The campaign was launched by Nagaland Baptist Church Council (NBCC) on June 2012. During its launch, the council also released a booklet Engaging the Powers: Elections- A Special issue for Christians designed to cultivate the moral self of the voters. This campaign was again introduced in 2017 to combat election malpractices. And in March 2022, the NBCC launched yet another campaign under the theme “Doing right in the sight of God and people,” which is a quote from the Bible. The self-cultivation discourse initiated by the church has manifested in other forms like the anti-corruption movement led by ACAUT whose founding members have formed the newest Nagaland political party, Rising People’s Party. It remains to be seen whether the people’s party can replicate the success of the Aam Aadmi Party, which was formed in the backdrop of Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption movement to introduce the Jan Lokpal Bill.
The romance of anti-corruption is driving the electoral discourse in Nagaland scheduled for 2023 and it is imperative to understand the popular perception of this self-cultivation practice. I spoke to some citizens who faced problems because of corruption during elections. One such person is a teacher called Sensonaro who has been advocating for clean elections. She said that she did not find support from the common people. “The campaign for clean elections is visible to the public but its applicability is less than practical. In the last election, I was forced to leave the queue at the polling station because I advocated for a clean election prior to the voting day. Leaving that aside, my opinion is that the democracy that we have in Nagaland is a ‘community democracy’ wherein the voting decision is taken by the village council. In such a structure I think it would be very difficult to practice clean election, which is needless to say ‘individual’ in character.”
Yilobemo, a polling officer in the 2018 election, said “Last election I went to a village as a PO. When I stopped some people from voting multiple times, the elders of the village led by the headman threatened me. They told me that they have already made a deal with the candidate and they have to secure a certain percentage of votes. Such is the situation; no amount of campaign will work unless there is mass awareness along with taking care of the economic interest of the people.” With regard to the campaigns he said, “Clean election campaigns are influential in urban areas where people from various tribes cohabit. But in rural settings, the dictate of clan, village and tribe are more influential than the campaign of the church for clean election.”
Angumsoba, a local business in Dimapur, said “The intention of a clean election campaign is always welcome by the citizens. However, the outcome is not satisfactory. People tend to project dual morality in Nagaland and accept money in exchange for vote. This is seen as a smart move to take what one can before the candidate wins and go on a looting spree. As long as money power exists, these campaigns will have less impact and influence on voting choice among the general public.”
Vizo, a research student, commented, “A few days back I was discussing with my cousins regarding these awareness campaigns. We agreed that these campaigns do raise the rationale of the people but we are lacking very much in keeping it in practice. Electoral corruption is not something new. Phizo, the father of our Naga nation, had predicted long back that Nagas will fall because of money. Once money is offered, people stop thinking rationally.”
From the above observations, we can draw some conclusions. There is a certain romantic charm about these campaigns. But equally enticing is the money bills that can corrupt the voters. The clean election campaign, although in existence for about a decade, is still an urban phenomenon. Its influence can be ascertained only after it spreads across the state, especially in the rural areas where the poor economic condition makes the people easy subjects of corrupt practice. The clean election campaign neither exists only on paper nor has it become revolutionary in character. At best, we can say that it is at a threshold.
About the author: Boniface G Kamei belongs to the Rongmei Naga tribe of Manipur, India. He is currently a research scholar at the University of Hyderabad.