‘Clean election’ seems to be a pipe dream in Nagaland with both the church and anti-corruption crusaders failing to back a man who had set out to walk the talk. Rev. Dr Mazie Nakhro, a theologian from Jostoma village in Kohima district and a staunch proponent of clean election, was coerced into withdrawing his candidature from the upcoming Assembly polls as his own clan felt he didn’t stand a chance against candidates from other villages if he played clean.
Rev. Nakhro announced his intention to fight from 8 Western Angami Assembly Constituency on January 14 through a video clip that went viral on social media – only to withdraw his candidature within 36 hours.
In the short clip, he announced: “After living in the US for 27 years, now I have come back home to Nagaland. The way I see it Nagas are heading in the wrong direction and if we continue on this path, I am afraid we are on the path of self-destruction”. However, despite the clean election campaign of the Nagaland Baptist Churches Council (NBCC), the powerful apex body of Baptist churches in Nagaland, Nakhro’s initiative seems to have a few takers.
Rev. Nakhro had returned to his native place, Jotsoma in Nagaland, in 2007. Soon enough, he charged head-on into what he called ‘institutionalised corruption’ and a state of ‘oligarchy’ in Nagaland. Over the years, he came to be accepted as a voice of change who called for a socio-politico-economic transformation in his home state, and a popular columnist with local newspapers with a good grasp of ‘Naganomics’ (Nagaland’s economy). As of now, he is an ordained minister of the Angami Baptist Church Council, Nagaland.
“I decided to set an example by contesting in the elections on two platforms – NBCC’s clean election campaign and the anti-corruption stand of ACAUT (an anti-corruption organisation),” Rev. Nakhro said talking to indianexpress.com. His decision was met with stiff opposition from the members of his clan and even some in his family, who told him that it would be an exercise in futility. “I told the Jotsoma village council I intended to run and needed their support. They told me if I intend to run as a clean candidate I don’t stand a chance to win. And if I persist, then I would be defeated and only bring big loss to our village,” the theologian claimed.
“They opposed me but at the same time they said they could not take a decision whether to encourage me or stop me. So they asked me to go meet people, starting from the khels (villages are divided into khels).”
The theologian said as he was preparing to campaign, somebody started a rumour that “if Mazie wins, he is not going to do anything for our village.” Moreover, he found out that the village council had picked up another person from his clan to represent the village as candidate for the elections. “We don’t want to be defeated by other people from other villages, by hook or by crook. Clanship is still very much entrenched and embedded in our culture.”
“I am sure they (other candidates) have invested a lot in their game plan. My clan members were not really against me, I don’t think they hate me, but they were not optimistic about my chances. They wanted to get me out of the way and put in somebody who they feel have a better chance.” In the face of stiff opposition and discouragement, the theologian says he threw a challenge to his people that he would withdraw if they fielded a candidate who would contest on the lines of clean election. There are still no takers for the challenge.
Before declaring his candidature, Rev. Nakhro met the other candidate from his village and ensured his support if he contested clean. “I met the candidates from the other villages in our constituency as well – one was the best man at my wedding and the other a retired engineer – and asked them to contest the polls on the NBCC guidelines of clean election,” he said.
According to Nakhro, one of the two candidates, who he feels is likely to win from the 8 Western Angami Assembly Constituency, told him: “You are going along the line of Gandhi fighting for principles. I am trying to be pragmatic, we have to compromise. I am going along the lines of Nehru.” Realising that he was fighting a lone battle, Rev. Nakhro told the villagers to allow him to at least file his candidature for the elections, assuring that he wouldn’t campaign. “I wanted to put my candidature on record so that the young people know somebody stood for change, somebody stood for clean elections, but they didn’t agree to that too.”
Finally, according to the theologian, it all came to a head and he was forced to withdraw under a cloud of intimidation. But Rev. Nakhro asserts he would continue with his crusade against corruption and take on the issue of clanship that has been detrimental to the Naga society. Apparently, the ACAUT (Against Corruption and Unabated Taxation) and the NBCC (Nagaland Baptist Church Council), both crusaders of Clean Election Campaign, were helpless in providing support to Rev Nakhro.
NBCC general secretary Rev. Dr. Zelhou Keyho and ACAUT convenor Joel Nillo Rengma termed the incident as “unfortunate”. But it was clear that neither organisation had reached out to to the beleaguered theologian of Jotsoma village.
The NBCC leader said he had come to know about the incident from the newspapers. Referring to Rev. Mazie as a “committed church leader”, he added that “it is not in our (NBCC) perimeter to endorse any candidate.” He further said that “election is a community affair.”
ACAUT leader Joel also termed the incident as “unfortunate” and said his organisation “absolutely condemns the method to silence the voice of somebody who stood for clean election.” Asked why the ACAUT couldn’t stand up for such a candidate, Joel, “We are not a structured unit, we are a mass-based movement.” Rev. Nakhro had addressed a rally of the ACAUT in September 2015. According to the ACAUT website, “His (Rev. Nakhro) grasp of Naganomics (Naga economy) may just about lay the foundation of a Naga economy.”
In April 2017, the ACAUT and NBCC, in a joint statement, affirmed commitment to the clean election campaign. Both recognised that the “root cause of corruption in the state is the prevailing ill practices of election process”. The NBCC had resolved to disseminate the guidelines of Clean Election Campaign to the village and initiate a strong working relationship between the church and the village authority, and tap the strength and force of the youth and the intellectual into the movement with the support of civil societies like ACAUT.
YouthNet, a youth-based non-profit organisation, conducted a study titled ‘Post Election Watch’ in 2013, which revealed a staggering amount of Rs. 937,82,67,500 was spent in the 2013 Nagaland Assembly elections by 188 candidates contesting for 60 seats. The study revealed that an approximate amount of Rs. 569,96,00000 was spent to buy votes and muscle power during the 2008 elections. It further stated that 11 candidates spent between Rs 20-40 crore, among whom eight won the elections and three lost. The average amount spent per household was Rs 10,000-20,000, the study claimed.