Political clientelism refers to the practice of providing personal favors – jobs, contracts, welfare, support, money and so forth in exchange for electoral support.


The dynamics of Nagaland electoral politics continues to be within tribes, region and clientelism but the majority of the voters in Nagaland fall victim to the clientelistic strategies laid out by the political parties. In places with weak democracies the world over, clients use patrons to obtain resources and for political inclusion.


Research has shown that poor countries are likely to be clientelistic and that poor voters are more likely to receive and respond to money and other clientelistic incentives and that politics in poor regions are more likely to take a clientelistic form. While the affinity between inequality, poverty and clientelism is a settled fact, the mechanism linking the two is not.


The Economic Survey of 2017 found that the Indian States are more interested in handing out goods and services rather than delivering competitive services. As a result, India continues to suffer from weak State capacity, which means the State is very inefficient at providing healthcare and education, or at implementing programs intended to support the poor; for instance, Nagaland.


The practice of relying on social and political connections to even get access to legal entitlement is a common practice in Nagaland. During elections, political parties circulate huge quantities of cash and materials, buy votes and promise jobs and services while making the entire election a costly affair.


According to economists Philip Keefer and Razvan Vlaicu, one reason why political leaders prefer to rely on vote-buying and other clientelistic strategies is that it is very costly to establish their credibility based on public policy commitments. Where state capacity is weak, politicians find it hard to achieve their policy goals and are thus more likely to rely on clientelism.


This reliance on clientelistic strategies, in turn, undermines democracy – especially if it hinders the freedom of the people to choose freely. It also undermines the capacity of the bureaucracy to deliver public goods in an impartial, accountable fashion, thereby creating a vicious cycle.


It has been found that clientelism thrives in places where democracy failed to provide material benefits to voters. Also, the concentration of control over economic activities in the hands of few elites fosters clientelism because it stifles the public sphere and inhibits effective scrutiny and disciplining of politico-business elites.


It can be assumed that when a State undergoes economic development that will boost the economic independence of citizens from ruling elites, a public sphere capable of constraining clientelistic practices can emerge. Politicians will only shift away from the clientelistic practice because of the capacity and the willingness of the civil society to oppose such practices by exposing them and propagating a moral discourse that promotes a rule-bound distribution of resources and demands proper functioning of democratic institutions.


Exploring a probable way out

While it is difficult to disprove the claim that political clientelism is thriving because of a systemic and largely explicit quid-pro-quo relationship between the patrons and clients, there are no doubt conscientious citizens who want to get rid of the system.


The ‘clean election movement’ spearheaded by the church is an apt example. However, there are others who believe that it would require astute leadership and time for Naga society to wiggle its way out of the deeply entrenched political clientelism. “We need real leaders with the courage to contest elections without spending money, a new crop of leaders who truly love our people,” attests T Imlitoshi Walling, former principal of People’s College, Mokokchung.


He opines that the onus lies with the candidates because a genuine leader who truly loves his people should be ready to contest elections sans political clientelism. The prospect of winning an election in that manner seems to be bleak, given the prevailing situation, but he believes that electoral politics can be refined in that way in two or three election cycles.


“It will take time. Maybe 10 years, 15 years. There is no magic formula,” he admits. In essence, his view can be surmised as a true leader should be willing to contest against the system and not necessarily about winning the election. Winning, though, would be a welcome surprise.


Meanwhile, another citizen who did not wish to be named because he is a government employee, suggests that the party system is flawed where the role of the opposition is absent. He is also of the view that voters should be educated to vote on the basis of the candidate’s merit and not clientelism.



Mokokchung Times Feature

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