Corruption in northeast : Can PM Modi hold the bull by its horn?

Nirendra Dev *

"I want to wage a decisive battle against corruption, speed up the drive against it; take the war to a decisive stage," Prime Minister Narendra Modi said gesticulating his fingers and often clenching his fist to display the anguish and determination.

The words have perhaps found new meaning in the north east -- a region of seven states and also Sikkim -- where corruption is often seen as a way of life. The region is seriously afflicted with the fungus of corruption and 'no accountability' being the hallmark.

So much of it that in some states slogans and phrases have come up. In Assam, people say the Forest department is 'the most corrupt' --- and an idiom being "Delhi khaleye minister-e; Assam khaleye Forestere".

In Nagaland, the department of Food and Civil Supplies was considered most juicy in the 1990s but as the infrastructures money is being pumped in lately -- its Roads and Bridges today that draws most attention.

In the 1980s, M J Akbar, then an editor of a Kolkata-based newspaper had written acidly - "In Nagaland, payments are made on earth for works done in heaven". The reason being - one had to simply manage the contracts and supply orders -- money would change hands almost automatically. And the loot would have been shared.

On Aug 16, 2022 -- over 24 hours after PM Modi's speech from the ramparts of Red Fort; Naga village elder and Gaon Burrah Federation leader Shikuto Zalipu told this journalist: "Like Modi, we Nagas are also angry against Corruption. This menace and nepotism have truly harmed Nagas the most. But there is hope in Modi as he would be knowing by now what is happening in Nagaland in the name of welfare works and development".

Many say - the election process is crucial. Nagaland or Meghalaya witness height of corruption during elections. If there is no drastic reforms on election process itself, rolls, there is no chance that the menace can be eradicated. Corruption is also linked to insurgency and the nefarious nexus between ultras and netas as well.

Corruption as a menace has been practically thriving in every state in the region. Everyone in the north east has developed a habit of asking for a pound of flesh -- seeking money and pleasures. If someone in Delhi says corruption can be curbed, many say - it's only a day dream as of now.

Agreeing with this view, a Congress general secretary in Meghalaya, Sanjay Das said - "If the Prime Minister is sincere about fighting corruption; his party should snap all ties with regional parties like NPP in Meghalaya and NDPP in Nagaland. These two parties are now epitome of corruption". "So far, Modi has only targeted opposition parties and misused ED and CBI against our leaders including Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi", he said.

Echoing the same sentiment, Naga village elder Zalipu said, "We will be frank; if the Prime Minister is sincere about fighting corruption, he should start with Nagaland and punish the wrongdoers. If corruption is an issue, the Neiphiu Rio government has to go today itself". However, all these will be easier said than done for the BJP and the central leadership.

North East BJP leaders are mostly turncoats and defectors from parties such as Congress where corruption unfortunately was never a major taboo or issue. In Mizoram, one former Congress leader and now only BJP legislator Buddha Dhan Chakma, chief executive member of the Chakma Autonomous District Council (CADC) was convicted in a corruption case last month.

Chakma is the first legislator convicted in a graft case in the history of Mizoram. Only consolation for the BJP would be that Chakma, who joined the Lotus party in 2018, was originally a Congressman previously and the period of allegation of corruption to the tune of Rs 137.10 lakh was when Chakma was still in the grand old party. Incidentally, the original allegation against him was made by a local BJP leader only.

In Meghalaya, a party office bearer has been charged with running a brothel. For its part, the Meghalaya BJP has earlier dared CM Conrad Sangma to order a CBI inquiry into the incident of collapse of dome of the under-construction assembly building of the state in New Shillong Township. The corruption menace has many facets in insurgency-hit states in the region.

Most ultra groups are known for making ransom/extortion/taxation demands from politicians and bureaucrats. The amount of money and the deals worth crore,/s between various militant groups and netas only prove how much money does go down the drain from state exchequers in the name of developmental projects and welfare schemes.

The impact is multi-fold. Insurgency and related vices of extortion are like cottage industries even in states like Tripura -where militancy was generally infamous for kidnapping for ransom. On the other hand, the absence of any viable job avenue and industries leave youths frustrated and young boys are tempted to join multiple ultra groups for paltry salaries of few thousands and a reasonable cut from extortion money.

Lately in Nagaland, Governor Jagdish Mukhi initiated steps against presence of multiple 'money collecting' check posts in various parts of the state. In his Aug 14 eve of Independence Day speech, Governor Mukhi also spoke about "institutionailsed corruption" in the state. "We must eliminate illicit gangs and guns and institutionalised corruption from the state," he said.

"There is a 'super government' directing the Nagaland Legislative Assembly.... This is not a people's government," Nagaland Congress president K Therie said at a press conference at Kohima and submitted a memorandum to the Governor Jagdish Mukhi alleging 'nexus' and seeking dismissal of the Rio ministry.

Neiphiu Rio heads the NDPP-BJP-NPF alliance 'opposition-less government' but the dispensation has been charged more than once for corruption, diversion of funds and even alleged nexus with ultras.

"We have a scenario where the constitutional government is inefficient and corrupt while the extra-constitutional elements are many whose sole objective is to establish their supremacy through inter-group conflicts and illegal extortion which has brought upon the people of the state unmitigated miseries," veteran Naga leader and former Governor of Gujarat, S C Jamir, wrote in an article recently.

There are several instances of corruption among middle level officials too. There are several middle ranking clerks and stenographers who have minted millions and have more than one flat in Delhi, Kolkata or elsewhere. This was not only corruption; this was at the cost of nation building - as these Babus were given disturbance allowances for serving in insurgency-hit states.

In Assam, the ULFA activities reached peak in the 1980s and early 1990s when the outfit made a 'strategic entry' by adopting the modus operandi of a modern day Robinhood pledging to cleanse the state of its ills including the corruption menace.

Corruption and other negativity were also handled in different ways at times over the years. In one of the states in the 1990s, a senior politician was 'rewarded' and made a Governor after it was alleged that he was involved in corruption and had also tried to foment ethnic violence in the state.

* Nirendra Dev wrote this article for
The writer is based at New Delhi, and can be reached at nirendev1(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on August 17 2022 .

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