In 2018, the Neiphiu Rio led People’s Democratic Alliance (PDA) formed the government in Nagaland, one of the first public policies that the newly installed government implemented was the curb on VIP culture. In a bid to end VIP culture, the Nagaland Government first directed that no official or dignitary will use designation plates in their vehicles. All government officials and functionaries were strictly directed not to display their designations on their vehicles. It was even warned that violators would face action under Section 177 of the Motor Vehicle Act 1988. The newly formed government then upped the ante against VIP culture with the Cabinet taking the decision as part of its anti-VIP culture endeavour in the state to refrain from making donations and announcements of monetary grants while attending public programs and functions. This was projected as fulfilling a commitment made in their election manifesto that they will remove the VIP culture from the state if elected to power. It was also resolved that Government officials and employees of the State Government will not attend functions as chief guest and will be disallowed from donating funds nor will they be allowed to announce monetary grants at public functions. The Cabinet also resolved that PDA members will not receive gifts and presentations in public functions and events and it was advised that flowers and bouquets – preferably fresh – may be received at the time and point of arrival at the program venue while alighting from and no manner of presents should be received during the functions.
Fast forward to 2023 and you decide whether the curb on VIP culture has been a success or not. Though the use of designation plates in vehicles of VIPs are no longer seen, the other curbs seem to have waned over the years. We still see chief guests – with new names like honored guests, special guest, guest of honor, patron or host – following the same practices as before. Monetary donations are still fashionable. In fact, the whole point behind inviting chief guests is for monetary donations. Public functions are like the market place where the buyers and the sellers meet. The VIPs want and need to be in the limelight to remain relevant, while those who invite the VIPs are expecting monetary donations from the VIPs. It will be interesting to know when, where or how this culture came into being in Nagaland. In the larger Indian context, during the Raj, the British class system fused seamlessly with India’s caste system to entrench social divisions even more rigidly. After independence, the elite simply occupied the space left behind by the colonial masters. However, in the Naga context, that cannot be said to be wholly true. In the Naga parlance, it can be said that the VIP culture exists largely because of socio-economic reasons. It will be difficult to do away with the Naga brand of VIP culture as long as the prevailing socio-economic situation does not improve. There could be other reasons, and there can be suggestions aplenty, but almost all of them are rooted to the socio-economic reality of Nagaland today in one way or the other.
In order to do away with the VIP culture – or at least curb it – it will take more than just fulfilling an election manifesto fulfilled on paper. It will require a conscious and deliberate movement in praxis, both on the part of the VIPs themselves and those who invite the VIPs.