Post Mortem

How corruption and tribalism intensify each other

By Nagaland Post | Publish Date: 1/9/2020 1:03:28 PM IST

 The Modi government initiated India’s first Good Governance Index (GGI). This index measures the delivery of ‘good governance’ to citizens across states and union territories in India. The GGI is seen as a vital instrument to help states formulate and implement informed policy strategies to improve governance. In the 2019 GGI, Nagaland consistently occupied the bottom rung of the ladder among the Northeast states. Nagaland comfortably lagged behind other states in almost all the key indicators—economic governance, social welfare and development sectors, commerce and industries, and human resource development, among others.

Nagaland has not made much of an improvement from the 2018 Public Affairs Index (PAI) that evaluated the performance of states’ governance in India across 100 indicators. Similarly, in that report, Nagaland consistently (and customarily) managed to rank at the bottom in crucial categories such as transparency, fiscal management, economic freedom, and human development.

Such paltry performance is not surprising given the intensity and extent of corruption in our state. Corruption is bound to hamper governance, that is, how effectively and efficiently a state government renders or delivers essential services (health care, human resource development, water and sanitation, education, electricity, social welfare services, ease of doing business, etc.) to its population. More importantly, what these GGI and PAI reports show is a deep undercurrent of how, in Nagaland, corruption and tribalism feed off each other. This is a worrying indication. Corruption intensifies tribalism; and as a consequence, tribalism amplifies corruption; and vice versa. This cyclical reciprocity continues to perpetuate itself. This is not to say that corruption is the sole reason for tribalism or vice versa. After all, there are numerous cultural, political, and socio-economic factors contributing to both. Nevertheless, corruption does intensify tribalism, and, as such, tribalism sustains corruption. Let’s examine how they intensify each other.

Corruption usually creates a greater sense of division, or ‘us’ vs. ‘them’ attitude, in society. In Nagaland, for instance, the gap between elites of each tribe and the public, in general, is often wider than necessary because of corruption. This is noticeable when corrupt government officials (from the bottom to the upper echelon of bureaucracy and elected representative offices) are perceived to be creaming off our state’s resources and wealth at the expense of ordinary citizens. For instance, those persons, who despite having a government job, do not attend their offices nor perform their duties in places where they are posted, rather they choose to reside in the urban areas and operate their own business or, even, educational institutions. These specific persons only make their dreaded trip back to the place of their posting occasionally. These government employees do indeed symbolize the ‘entrepreneurial’ and ‘skill development’ spirit which most of our cabinet ministers and advisors like to sermonize on most occasions. Such a political culture creates an incentive for people to seek government jobs given numerous ‘side-income’ opportunities (for corruption). As a consequence, people see the benefits of appealing to tribal sentiments to gain access to government jobs, which thereby perpetuates corruption and vice-versa. This cycle continues.

At the same time, corruption also creates division between citizens, as those unwilling or unable to pay bribes to obtain government jobs or get a legitimate file moved from one desk to another become frustrated and resentful of those who can and do pay bribes to secure government jobs, move a file from one desk to another, and so on. Most of us know how police recruitment drive operates, or how government jobs (office clerks, LDAs, university and school teachers, etc.) can be acquired (through personal/tribal or political connections), and how Nagaland Public Service Commission (NPSC) has lost almost all its credibility. It is, thus, no wonder that Nagaland continuous to rank at the bottom (in both GGI and PAI).

Corruption not only increases citizens’ distrust of the government and its officers (as is unmistakably evident in GGI and PAI), it also propagates people’s intense identification with their tribe (as well as clan/village). In other words, an increased attachment to, or return to, or dependence on one’s tribal and kinship identity. Such excessive identification with one’s tribe/kinship reduces society’s sense of shared understanding, trust, cooperation, and reciprocity among citizens and between tribes. A consequence of which (we see today) is the growing estrangement between tribes that heightens tribal animosity and distrust. If most people wonder why there is a ‘trust deficit’ in Nagaland, a part of the answer may lie in understanding the nature of this cyclical relation between corruption and tribalism.

Because corruption largely disrupts the sense of balance and fairness of how societal (political and socio-economic) system operates and functions, citizens begin to fervently embrace their tribe identity as a way to obtain or gain access to the state’s limited resources. In such struggles, tribes detrimentally compete over government jobs, schemes, and other services. Since corruption raises the stakes (access to government jobs, resources, schemes, and additional opportunities for ‘side-income,’ etc.), tribes begin to resentfully view each other with suspicion and distrust. In such an antagonistic struggle, corruption ceases to be seen as corruption. It is no longer seen to be unethical, dishonourable, or ignoble. Instead, corruption becomes a legitimate instrument, an unspoken but acceptable means (‘that’s how things work’) to secure and elevate primarily one’s tribesmen, clansmen, and villagers. Generally, if one is in a position of power and authority, one is usually expected to procure government jobs primarily for one’s fellow tribesmen, clansmen, villagers, etc. And in doing so, one will be held in high honour and regard, even considered praiseworthy and admirable, by one’s tribe and people for deeds which, in actuality, are unconcealed acts of corruption. It seems as though tribalism sanctifies corruption, which in Nagaland, it usually does.

Attitudes such as these are deeply entrenched in our belief systems so much so that these tribal factors have become an essential part and parcel of how things operate in almost every aspect of our society. From students’ bodies (university/college level) and tribal organizations to Nagaland Legislative Assembly and government bureaucracy (even lucrative government contracts/schemes), tribal factors shape “who get what, when, and how.” That is, who (here the person’s tribe usually matters) gets to hold which prestigious offices or key departments. Some small examples would certainly be the nature of government bureaucrats’ promotions, transfers, and allocation of departments (as well as postings to the dreaded regions in Nagaland where most bureaucrats, government school teachers, and medical officers wish not to be sent); or the allocation of key ministerial departments at the cabinet-level; or who gets to hold which executive offices (even) at various church conventions, etc.

Another connected fact is that because corruption and tribalism intensify one another, inequality increases between tribes as well as within tribes. Inequality is often accompanied by higher levels of poverty. Such poverty and inequality are hard to miss for these are noticeably acute within each tribe and between tribes. The inequality and poverty in Nagaland are an assault to one’s sense of humanity given the immense amount of central funds our state receives. There are numerous families and persons (in every tribe) living hand-to-mouth and struggling to make ends meet. Many commentators do numerously write in our state’s newspapers addressing issues of concern, but seldom do we see them address issues of poverty and inequality, which corruption exacerbates. Why are most of us keeping silent on stories of divisions, poverty, and inequality?

If we prudently observe our society, we cannot ignore the intricate and entrenched connection between corruption and tribalism, and how they intensify each other. No doubt, corruption is not the sole determining factor for tribalism; similarly, tribalism is not the sole contributing factor for corruption, either. Yet, limiting corruption (which is difficult, but not impossible) will in all likelihood reduce the intensity of tribalism; and, as a result, lessen the magnitude of corruption (remember they are in a cyclical relation). This does not mean, however, that there will be no tribalism if corruption is restrained, for there will always be people (from average persons to tribes’ elites) who will perpetuate tribalism for various reasons—self-interests, to acquire and maintain power, greed, domination, or out of sheer ignorance. Rather, it is imperative to realize that if corruption is not restrained and the intensity of tribalism minimized, Nagaland will be incapable of taking any decisive actions concerning its future.

Dr. Salikyu, 

North East Christian University, Dimapur

Launched on December 3,1990. Nagaland Post is the first and highest circulated newspaper of Nagaland state. Nagaland Post is also the first newspaper in Nagaland to be published in multi-colour.

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