Nagas as a ‘Society against Voting?’

Consensus-Building, Party-less Politics and a Culturalist Critique of Elections in Northeast India

in The Cambridge Journal of Anthropology
View More View Less
  • 1 Royal Thimphu College jjp.wouters@gmail.com
Restricted access

Abstract

Interrogating the normative notion of ‘man the voter’, this article draws on ethnography among the Chakhesang Naga in Northeast India to communicate a cosmopolitan, culturalist critique – and an answer to this critique – of liberal democracy’s hallmark of party-based elections, individual autonomy and equal voting rights. While Nagas have been decorated as ‘traditional democrats’, their sense of the good political life is shaped by values of communal harmony, consensus-building and complimentary coexistence. However, these are threatened by practices and principles of liberal democracy, which led Phugwumi villagers to attempt a procedural adaptation of elections by substituting individual voting for consensus-building and the selection of a leader. I use this ethnographic case to provincialize the sprawling contemporary sense of ‘liberal universalism’, and to postulate that, in their political sociality, Nagas are a ‘society against voting’, an adaptation of Society against the State.

Contributor Notes

Jelle J. P. Wouters is a Senior Lecturer at Royal Thimphu College, Bhutan. Previously he taught at Sikkim Central University and was a visiting fellow at Eberhard Karls University on a ‘Teaching for Excellence’ award granted by the German Research Foundation. He is the author of In the Shadows of Naga Insurgency: Tribes, State, and Violence in Northeast India (Oxford University Press, 2018).

  • Almond, G. and S. Verba. 1963. The Civic Culture: Political Attitudes and Democracy in Five Nations. London: Sage Publications.

  • Amer, M. 2013. ‘Political Status of Women in Nagaland’. Journal of Business Management & Social Science Research 2 (4): 9195.

  • Amer, M. 2014. ‘Electoral Dynamics in India: A Study of Nagaland’. Journal of Business Management & Social Science Research 3 (4): 611.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Anderson, B. R. 1996. ‘Elections and Participation in Three Southeast Asian Countries’. In R. H. Taylor (ed.), The Politics of Elections in Southeast Asia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1233.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Ao, A. L. 1993. Rural Development in Nagaland. New Delhi: Har-Anand Publications.

  • Aram, M. 1974. Peace in Nagaland: Eight Year Story, 1964–1972. New Delhi: Arnold-Heinemann Publishers.

  • Asian Tribune. 2015. ‘Nagaland Heading for Opposition-Less Government; Not Healthy in Democratic Government’. 21 March.

  • Banerjee, M. 2014. Why India Votes. New Delhi: Routledge.

  • Bendangjungshi. 2012. Confessing Christ in the Naga Context: Towards a Liberating Ecclesiology. Berlin: Lit Verlag.

  • Biswas, P. and C. Suklabaidya. 2008. Ethnic Life-Worlds in Northeast India: An Analysis. Delhi: Sage Publications.

  • Bose, S. 2013. Transforming India. Challenges to the World’s Largest Democracy. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

  • Carrithers, M., S. Collins and S. Lukes (eds). 1985. The Category of the Person: Anthropology, Philosophy, History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Chandra, K. 2004. Why Ethnic Parties Succeed: Patronage and Ethnic Headcounts in India. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • Chasie, C. 2005. The Naga Imbroglio (A Personal Perspective). Kohima: City Press.

  • Clastres, P. 1977. Society against the State: The Leader as Servant and the Humane Uses of Power among the Indians of the Americas. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Coles, K. A. 2004. ‘Election Day: The Construction of Democracy through Technique’. Cultural Anthropology 19 (4): 551580. doi:10.1525.can.2004.19.4.551View.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Comaroff, J. L. and J. Comaroff. 1997. ‘Postcolonial Politics and Discourses of Democracy in Southern Africa: An Anthropological Reflection on African Political Modernities’. Journal of Anthropological Research 53 (2): 123146. doi:10.1086/jar.53.2.3631274.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Davis, A. W. (1891) 1969. ‘The Aos in 1891’. In V. Elwin (ed.), Nagas in the Nineteenth Century. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 323329.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Dev, S. C. 1988. Nagaland: The Untold Story. Calcutta: Regent Publications.

  • Dunn, J. 2014. Breaking Democracy’s Spell. New Haven, CT: Yale University.

  • Elwin, V. 1961. Nagaland. Shillong: The Research Department Secretariat.

  • Franke, M. 2011. War and Nationalism in South Asia: The Indian State and Nagas. London: Routledge.

  • Fürer-Haimendorf, C. von. 1936. ‘The Sacred Founder’s Kin among the Eastern Angami Nagas’. Anthropos 31 (5/6): 922933.

  • Fürer-Haimendorf, C. von. (1939) 1976. The Naked Nagas. London: Methuen & Co Ltd.

  • Gellner, D. 2009. ‘The Awkward Social Science? Anthropology on Schools, Elections, and Revolution in Nepal’. Journal of the Anthropological Society of Oxford (n.s.) 1 (2): 115140.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Gilmartin, D. 2012. ‘Towards a Global History of Voting: Sovereignty, the Diffusion of Ideas, and the Enchanted Individual’. Religions 3: 407423. doi:10.3390/rel3020407.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Graeber, D. 2009. Direct Action: An Ethnography. Oakland: AK Press.

  • Gundevia, Y. D. 1975. War and Peace in Nagaland. New Delhi: Palit & Palit Publishers.

  • Hickel, J. 2015. Democracy as Death: The Moral Order of Anti-Liberal Politics in South Africa. Berkeley: University of California Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Horam, M. 1988. The Naga Insurgency: The Last Thirty Years. Delhi: Cosmo Publications.

  • Huntington, S. 2000. ‘Foreword: Cultures Count’. In L. E. Harrison and S. Huntington (eds), Culture Matters: How Values Shape Human Progress. Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, xii–xvi.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hutton, J. H. 1921. The Angami Nagas: With Some Notes on Neighbouring Tribes. London: Macmillan.

  • Hutton, J. H. 1928. ‘The Significance of Head-Hunting in Assam’. The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland 58: 339408.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hutton, J. H. 1965. ‘The Mixed Culture of the Naga Tribes’. The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland 95 (1): 1643.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Joshi, V. 2012. A Matter of Belief: Christian Conversion and Healing in North-East India. Oxford: Berghahn Books.

  • Khilnani, S. 2009. ‘Arguing Democracy: Intellectuals and Politics in Modern India’. CASA Working Paper Series 9 (2): 134.

  • Kikon, D. 2002. ‘Political Mobilization of Women in Nagaland: A Sociological Background’. In W. Fernandes and S. Barbora (eds), Changing Women’s Status in India: Focus on the Northeast. Guwahati: North-Eastern Social Research Centre, 174182.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Kikon, D. 2005. ‘Engaging Naga Nationalism’. Economic and Political Weekly 40 (26): 28332837.

  • Kumar, B. B. 2005. Naga Identity. New Delhi: Concept Publishing.

  • Kuotsu, R. K. and W. Walling. 2018. ‘Democratic Values and Traditional Practices: Gendering Electoral Politics in Nagaland.’ In J. J. P. Wouters and Z. Tunyi (eds), Democracy in Nagaland: Tribes, Traditions, Tensions. Kohima: Highlander Press, 101122.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Malinowski, B. 1923. ‘The Problem of Meaning in Primitive Languages’. In C. K. Ogden and I. A. Richards (eds), The Meaning of Meaning: A Study of the Influence of Language upon Thought and the Science of Symbolism. London: Kegan Paul, 296336.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Mauss, M. (1938) 1985. ‘A Category of the Human Mind: The Nation of the Person, the Notion of the Self’. In M. Carrithers, S. Collins and S. Lukes (eds), The Category of the Person. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 145.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Michelutti, L. 2007. ‘The Vernacularisation of Democracy: Popular Politics and Political Participation in North India’. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 13 (3): 639656. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9655.2007.00448.x.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Mills, J. P. 1926. The Ao Nagas. London: Macmillan.

  • Mishra, J. P. 2004. ‘A.Z. Phizo: As I Knew Him. http://nagaland.faithweb.com/articles/phizo.html (accessed 10 April 2015).

  • Misra, U. 1987. ‘Nagaland Elections’. Economic and Political Weekly 22 (51): 21932195.

  • Moffatt-Mills, A. J. (1854) 1980. Report on Assam. New Delhi: Gian Publications.

  • Morung Express. 2013. ‘CPO Statement on Clean Elections’. 19 January.

  • Murry, K. C. 2007. Nagaland Legislative Assembly and Its Speakers. New Delhi: Mittal Publications.

  • Nader, L. 1990. Harmony Ideology: Justice and Control in a Mountain Zapotec Town. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

  • Nagaland Baptist Church Council. 2012. Clean Election Campaign. Engaging the Powers: Elections – A Spiritual Issue for Christians. Kohima: Nagaland Baptist Church Council.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Nash, K. 2004. Contemporary Political Sociology: Globalisation, Politics, and Power. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.

  • Nuh, V. K. 1986. Nagaland Church and Politics. Kohima: V. K. Nuh.

  • Pandey, R. S. 2010. Communitisation: Third Way of Governance. New Delhi: Concept Publishing House.

  • Phizo, A. Z. 1951. Plebiscite Speech. http://www.neuenhofer.de/guenter/nagaland/phizo.html (accessed 2 April 2014).

  • Piliavsky, A. 2014. ‘Introduction’. In A. Piliavsky (ed.), Patronage as Politics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 138.

  • Prasad, M. M. 2010. ‘Fun with Democracy: Election Coverage and the Elusive Subject of Indian Politics’. In C. B. Huat (ed.), Elections as Popular Culture in Asia. London: Routledge, 139154.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Ramunny, M. 1993. The World of Nagas. New Delhi: Northern Book Centre.

  • Sahlins, M. 1999. ‘What Is Anthropological Enlightenment? Some Lessons of the Twentieth Century’. Annual Reviews 28: ixxiii. doi:10.1146/annurev.anthro.28.1.0.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Sema, H. 1986. Emergence of Nagaland. New Delhi: Vikas Publishing House.

  • Sen, A. 1999. ‘Democracy as a Universal Value’. Journal of Democracy 10 (3): 317.

  • Sen, A. N. 1974. ‘Operation Election’. Economic and Political Weekly 9 (11): 424.

  • Shah, A. 2010. In the Shadows of the State: Indigenous Politics, Environmentalism, and Insurgency in Jharkhand India. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Singh, C. 2004. Naga Politics: A Critical Account. New Delhi: Mittal Publications.

  • Snellinger, A. 2009. ‘Democratic Form: Conceptions and Practices in the Making of “New Nepal”’. Sociological Bulletin 58 (1): 4370.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Solo, T. 2011. From Violence to Peace and Prosperity: Nagaland. Kohima: N. V. Press.

  • Tanabe, A. 2007. ‘Towards Vernacular Democracy: Moral Society and Post-postcolonial Transformation in Rural Orissa, India’. American Ethnologist 34 (3): 558574. doi:10.1525/ae.2007.34.3.558.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Tessler, M. and E. Gao. 2009. ‘Democracy and the Political Culture Orientations of Ordinary Citizens: A Typology for the Arab World and Beyond’. International Social Science Journal 59 (192): 197207. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2451.2009.00692.x.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Thong, T. 2014. Progress and Its Impact on the Naga: A Clash of Worldviews. New York: Ashgate.

  • Tinyi, V. 2017. ‘The Headhunting Culture among the Nagas: Reinterpreting the Self’. The South Asianist 5 (1): 8398.

  • Vashum, R. 2000. Nagas’ Right to Self-Determination: An Anthropological–Historical Perspective. New Delhi: Mittal Publications.

  • Wiredu, K. 1995. ‘Democracy and Consensus in African Traditional Politics: A Plea for a Non-Party Polity’. The Centennial Review 39 (1): 5363.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Witsoe, J. 2009. ‘Territorial Democracy: Caste, Dominance and Electoral Practice in Postcolonial India’. POLAR 32 (1): 6483. doi:10.1111/j.1555-2934.2009.01024.x.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Wouters, J. J. P. 2015. ‘Polythetic Democracy: Tribal Elections, Bogus Votes, and the Political Imagination in the Naga Uplands of Northeast India’. Hau: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 5 (2): 121151. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.14318/hau5.2.010.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Wouters, J. J. P. 2017a. ‘Who Is a Naga Village? The Naga Village Republic through the Ages’. The South Asianist 5 (1): 99120.

  • Wouters, J. J. P. 2017b. ‘The Making of Tribes: The Chang and Chakhesang Nagas in India’s Northeast’. Contributions to Indian Sociology 51 (1): 79104. doi:10.1177/0069966716677406.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation

Metrics

All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 134 134 52
Full Text Views 17 17 0
PDF Downloads 30 30 0