The disconnect between society and politics in the Northeast is dangerous for democracy
Can such an assembly be considered a fair representation of an entire population where women haven’t yet found their rightful place? Has the politics of vested interests not worked against the region’s socio-cultural traditions?columns Updated: Mar 05, 2018 12:48 IST
The brand of politics being practised these days has begun to alienate the people from the democratic process. A good example of this is the just-concluded elections in the three Northeastern states. Here, I will desist from analysing the victory or loss of any particular party or leader and, instead, focus on analysing the tendencies that have nurtured the gun-tantra (culture of guns) and dealt a number of blows to ganatantra (the republic).
Let me begin with Nagaland. This extremely-sensitive part of India has been struggling to overcome poverty and backwardness. The annual per capita income here is Rs 89,607 as compared to the national per capita income of Rs 1,11,782. Now consider the average wealth of candidates from Nagaland. Of the 196 poll warriors in the fray, 114 are crorepatis with an average personal wealth of Rs 3.76 crore. As many as 60 candidates have personal assets of more than Rs 50 lakh.
The story doesn’t end there. Only five of the 196 candidates who filed nominations for the 60-seat assembly are women. An indicator of the sorry state of women in the state’s politics is that not a single woman candidate has been elected for the assembly, ever. Rano M Shaiza did become the state’s only parliamentarian in 1977 but no other woman has had this honour since. In a state that believes in giving equal rights to women, there was fierce resistance to reserving 33% seats for women in the municipal elections.
The condition of Meghalaya and Tripura, part of the Seven Sisters, isn’t any better. There’s a predominance of the Khasi community in Meghalaya. It is a matrilineal society that believes in the pre-eminence of women in society. In the Khasi community, the husband has to move into the wife’s ancestral home after marriage and their progeny take the mother’s name. Not just this, the recipient of ancestral property is the family’s youngest daughter. If a daughter is not born in a family, they adopt a girl child. There cannot be a better place in the country to be a woman, but look at the number of women in politics: Just 33 of the 372 candidates who fought the assembly elections are women. Here too, the candidates included 152 crorepatis with an average income of Rs 3.5 crore. The richest among these is Ngaitlang Dhar, the National People’s Party candidate from the Umroi constituency, with assets worth Rs 290 crore (he lost). Researchers from the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) say that Tripura is better than other states in this regard. Only 35 of the 297 candidates are crorepatis and the average wealth is Rs 46.92 lakh. But representation of women is negligible here, too. Just 24 women candidates filed nominations for the assembly polls.
The results are actually irrelevant. The question is: Can such an assembly be considered a fair representation of an entire population? Has the politics of vested interests not worked against the region’s socio-cultural traditions? How can an assembly full of crorepati legislators hope to take decisions in favour of the downtrodden? The disconnect between society and politics is dangerous for democracy.
These three states are also teeming with the germs of separatism. Therefore, for a long time, power from the gun has ruled in the name of democracy. While travelling through the remote areas of Manipur and Nagaland in the 1990s, I discovered that billions of rupees allotted by the Centre were not utilised for development; instead, they lined the pockets of bureaucrats and politicians. Rather than stopping them, the local police and paramilitary personnel were in cahoots with the corrupt. Clearly, when it comes to profit and loss, guns don’t differentiate between separatist groups and those in uniform.
That’s why the issue of equality for tribal rights has been relegated to the background in the Northeast by the power brokers. If you so desire, you can compare this pristine region to Kashmir, known as heaven on earth. Here too, ‘gun-tantra’ or the culture of guns has trampled on the rights of the common man in equal measure. The consequences are clear. Indian democracy has a bad record when it comes to helping women and the poor get their rights. But the conditions in these states, located in the lap of the Himalayas, are going from bad to worse.
So, before I congratulate the newly-elected legislators from the Northeast, I’d like to ask them: What will they do to change things? It is politicians who’ve pushed these states into this quagmire. Only they can pull the Northeast out of this morass.
Shashi Shekhar is editor in chief, Hindustan