Forward march or back to basics? A rethink of Nagaland’s pathway for 2024
DIMAPUR — What are the key issues that the Government of Nagaland should prioritise on in 2024?
For most citizens, the key issues appear to be infrastructural development, the state of education and economic stability.
This is evident from the way individuals, civil organisations and pressure groups have been advocating for quality and affordable health care, education reforms, improvement of basic infrastructure including road, water and electricity supply as some of the top policy priorities, on various media platforms.
But while these and other issues might benefit from government action, according to Rev. Chingmak Chang, founder and secretary of the Eleutheros Christian Society (ECS) Tuensang, and Wekoweu (Akole) Tsuhah, Nagaland state coordinator for North East Network (NEN), there are systemic issues and cultural challenges, standing in the way of genuine progress in Nagaland. They also noted the need for a collective shift in mindset.
The two social workers highlighted these in recent interviews with Eastern Mirror, where they were asked about what the state government should prioritise in 2024.
Rev. Chingmak noted that the Naga society has often displayed little confidence in the government’s ability to effectively address these issues. While the government is perceived as ‘corrupt’ by default, “we can’t always blame the government,” he said, opining that for any progress to happen, there needs to be a “collective effort to look into the mirror.”
According to him, the lack of self-reflection at various levels of society, including the government, can be attributed it to the patriarchal nature of Nagaland.
“I am not against patriarchy or matriarchy; my issue is a ‘patriarchy mindset,’” he clarified, highlighting the distinction between the two. The ‘patriarchy mindset,’ which extends beyond formal structures and focuses on the internalised beliefs and attitudes of individuals or a society, he opined, inhibits self-reflection and hinders the society from admitting to its failures.
Complexities in governance
Rev. Chingmak delved into the complexities of governance, with a critique of the political landscape where survival often takes precedence over genuine development. He maintained that the government faces challenges in implementing development initiatives due to the complex dynamics of ‘juggling’ various stakeholders, and trying to maintain a delicate power balance, leaving it no time to focus on development.
Another issue that Rev. Chingmak underlined was the financial challenges faced by the government of Nagaland, specifically in terms of fund allocation. He pointed out that a significant portion of the funds, around 90%, is allocated for government salaries, benefiting only 30% of the population while leaving the remaining 70% with limited resources.
He criticised the work ethic within the government machinery, pointing out issues like arriving late to office and leaving early, and absenteeism among officials, including doctors and teachers.
“So I think we really can’t blame the government also, if the 30% who are getting 90% of the share are not working,” he asserted, suggesting a need for accountability and a change in the existing system.
To bring about changes, he called for a risk-taking leader who is willing to bring about systemic change by addressing issues such as mismanagement of funds and the prevailing work culture.
Expressing concern over the pervasive corruption in Nagaland, Rev. Chingmak attributed it to lack of transparency and accountability, claiming that individuals at lower levels are unaware of budget plans and allocations in their own departments.
Empowering rural areas
He also raised the importance of infrastructure development, particularly in remote rural areas. He was of the view that connecting remote villages with good roads can stimulate local economies, allowing people to create their own livelihoods and empowering themselves rather than relying solely on government-provided livelihoods.
Emphasising the critical role of the village and its structure of governance, Rev. Chingmak contended that unless core issues are addressed from the village level, there cannot be meaningful and positive change in the state.
He suggested that the government focus on investing in the capacity of village level bodies, taking the example of the ‘communitisation’ programme for which the state had won awards.
Emphasis on traditional livelihoods
For Tsuhah, a key priority would be the promotion of livelihoods that combine traditional and modern skills, with the highest priority to agriculture, handloom, crafts, small manufacturing at decentralised levels and ecological regeneration.
She acknowledged that the government’s endeavours in skills development, particularly through programmes like Skill India – Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana (PMKVY) and other training initiatives, are predominantly focused on skills like knitting, sewing, carpentry, plumbing, masonry, and electrician, with all Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs) centred on these skills.
However, here is a lack of emphasis on traditional livelihoods such as agriculture, weaving, and bamboo work, despite their inclusion in programme schedules, she said.
In the context of Nagaland where the rural population is primarily involved in agriculture, she asserted the need for a heightened focus on traditional livelihoods and agriculture-based programmes through small-scale agro-biodiverse farming.
According to her, without incentivising and making agriculture more appealing, especially to the youth, retention becomes challenging. To attract younger individuals, she suggested modernising traditional farming with innovations, technology, and machinery, particularly in areas like transporting agricultural produce from hills to villages.
Sharing her experience of working with artisans – traditional loin loom weavers – the NEN coordinator affirmed that there is much more that can be accomplished in this sector. While there is the existence of producers, community-based producer companies, producer collective, etc., in the state, little to no support has been rendered to them besides the weavers’ participation in market exhibitions.
Further, stressing on the need to decentralise training institutions, she suggested that the government construct institutions within communities, instead of relocating artisans and youths to ITIs in places like Kohima or Dimapur.
This, she said, would facilitate accessibility of existing schemes and programme policies to the rural populace.
She also emphasised that the government should rethink trainings efforts as an ongoing process, and not just a one-time event. Post-training, the government could consider providing mentorship and support for establishing institutions like producer groups in villages or even capital support along with technology to access markets. While acknowledging the government’s efforts, she emphasised the need to focus not just on numbers but also on assessing the outcomes of training and investments.
On the other hand, Tsuhah also acknowledged that expecting the government to handle everything is unrealistic; however, ensuring universal access to adequate safe food, water and energy are basics that should be addressed.
In this context, she underscored the importance of convergence, partnership, and collaborations with NGOs and organisations as crucial elements for genuine progress, stating that “partnership is key.”
Accountability and transparency
Stressing on the need for policies or laws to ensure accountability and transparency in state institutions and financial bodies, Tsuhah used the example of the PMKVY scheme, to point out that while funds are reported on paper, understanding its actual implementation and utilisation is crucial for accountability.
She further emphasised that accountability should not solely rest on the government but also extend to the grassroots level, and even to those who avail benefits of these initiatives.