EM Exclusive, Nagaland
Nagaland elections then and now
Kohima, Feb. 11 (EMN): “Elections before and during my time in the 1980s were conducted smoothly without much fanfare or disturbances of public tranquillity (sic),” Dr. Dietho Yhoshü, a former member of the Nagaland Legislative Assembly, recalls.
In stark contrast to the extravagant campaigning by candidates today, elections in the past in Nagaland was frugal and fast. Yhoshü told Eastern Mirror during an interaction that election campaigns back then were characterised by simplicity and short durations.
Leaders then announced their candidature in simple ceremonies and went around villages in their constituencies to address public gatherings, armed with nothing but their manifestos, he said. “There were no attempts to entice voters with money or other gifts. People made their choice basing on the party manifesto or the candidate’s character.”
Anecdotes recorded in the ‘Report on the First General Election, 1963’ available with the establishment of the chief electoral officer of Nagaland tell about interesting incidents: In Northern Angami I assembly constituency, Z Vikrulie, a candidate whose symbol was a mithun reportedly recruited a black bull and inscribed the slogan ‘vote for Vikrulie’ over the animal’s body.
“The bull was seen roaming all round (sic) Kohima town,” the report read.
In Mokokchung district, when a woman came out of the polling station after voting, an agent of a candidate offered her tea but she expressed inability to accept the offer because she did not vote for the candidate the agent represented.
In Western Angami assembly constituency when a candidate solicited votes from voters of a particular village, the villagers expressed inability to consider his request because they had already promised the other candidate who approached them earlier. The report recounts of a time much simpler and much more ethical.
Yhoshü recalled also that most of the expenditure during those days were met by donations from supporters and well-wishers in the form of money; paddy / rice; animals, firewood etc., while agents and workers were voluntary—willingly coming forward to offer assistance with ‘very little or no violence.’
Back then election was an alien practice introduced from outside, Yhoshü said while observing that ‘gradually we picked up the good as well as bad practices and today the negatives have overrun the positive in terms of money, muscle power, size of the (candidate’s) village, khels, clans etc.’
Greed and love for comfort and temporal gains have turned the electioneering system ‘wayward,’ he said. Still, Yhoshü was hopeful that the wrong can be overcome. “Difficult but not impossible,” he said.
For Dirang Lungalang, a former government official, things of the present times in Nagaland are “absolutely chaotic” with no semblance of any leader attempting to steer the people toward the right direction.
When asked what could be the crux of the matter, Lungalang said: “I believe in earlier times when the election was held in 1963, the people were so very untainted by all the vices that our society is now experiencing and that is because of the cultural values, the traditional system of checks and balances that our forefathers lived by.
“Today with the onset of the statehood that our Nagaland has been granted, all the cultural and customary practices have been abandoned and so there is a total breakaway from our original customs and traditions. That’s the reason why everything seems to have gone very wrong in our society.”
Maintaining that he was not against election or any political party, Lungalang was nevertheless of the view that the Indian parliamentary system of election ‘is an ill-setting which is forced upon our people as government is a non-entity and an impersonal thing that doesn’t really relate to the Naga mindset.’
Democracy for Nagas those days, he explained, was not election but selection from every clan a person who was honest, principled and wise. But today, Lungalung regretted, ‘every Tom, Dick and Harry with money and muscle-power goes for election.’
“Our concern is only for good governance and on how to govern our people in the way that will be good for us,” Lungalang said. He felt that the Naga people need to ‘retrace and explore our steps back to the old customary system on how our forefathers had operated and conducted themselves with integrity, values and principles in the way they lived which is actually suitable for our Naga mindset.’
When the government of India accepted the unique history of the Nagas, he opined, instead of fighting against the system the people should have a dialogue with the central government and the Election Commission of India to allow the people to ‘choose the way we choose our leaders.’
As practiced in the olden days, the best qualified leaders could be chosen through dialogue and open debate not depending on money power or social status of the person, he said.
Lungalang was optimistic though. ‘If we are to bring this subject of good governance, I am sure if we have a dialogue with the centre and the ECI, they will allow our people to choose the way we choose our leader.’