Mission Potholes

Tired of complaining of bad roads, the educated youth of Nagaland took up this unique protest “Mission Potholes”. Using social media tools, they formed The Naga Blog and this sparked off an online protest which gradually poured down to the streets. Yanpvuo Kikon writes how the youth were galvanized online and how they gathered on the streets to plant saplings and catch fish on the potholed roads of Nagaland

 

The world has seen a wave of revolutions, both violent and non-violent. With the Arab Spring which swept the Arab world, revolutions have found a new platform – the internet and social media tools. After the violent and non-violent forms of revolutions, a new wave of humour based revolution is taking place in the Northeast India. Educated youths in Nagaland are fishing and planting rice saplings on the potholed filled main roads. They are registering a symbolic protest against the Government’s apathy to the poor condition of roads in the State. The protestors claim that the roads in Nagaland are no longer pliable for vehicles but more suitable for farming and fishing.

 

For years, people have been complaining about the poor condition of roads in the State but a powerful voice was needed to amplify the common man’s plea against all the inefficiencies and corruption that engulfed the system. The voice of the common man and youths in particular was born with a facebook group called ‘The Naga Blog’ where bloggers from Nagaland and around the world log in to discuss network, share ideas and discuss a wide range of topics focusing more on the social and political issues which are hampering development and growth in the region. The blog is not affiliated with any organization or political party thus making it a people’s movement. The Naga Blog has initiated numerous campaigns in the past such as the Sikkim earthquake relief, Mon fire tragedy relief operation, Dimapur civil hospital renovation etc

 

‘Mission Potholes’ was initiated by members of The Naga Blog after a long discussion and analysis of the condition of roads in Nagaland. The main objective of the mission was to grab the attention of the media and the authorities whose prime responsibility is to build and maintain good roads. Initially, the campaign took off in Dimapur and Kohima where people from all walks of life went out on the streets with bamboo fishing rods and rice saplings. While some bloggers planted rice saplings in the middle of the city’s busy potholed roads, a blogger sat on a mura (Traditional Naga chair), stuck out his fishing rod and plunged his hook into the pothole hoping to catch a big fish in the middle of a road with heavy traffic.

 

The public travelling in cars and buses were seen cheering the protestors and giving thumbs ups while VIP cars with headlights zipped passed the street farmers carrying placards which read slogans like ‘Drive slow: farmers planting rice ahead’; ‘Drive slow: men fishing ahead’. Later on, traffic personals and few elders also joined the bloggers in planting rice saplings and sharing a few jokes with them. The pictures which were later on uploaded in the blog were viewed and liked by thousands of members from around the world. Soon, after hearing the success of Kohima and Dimapur, bloggers from other districts asked to join the smiley revolution. ‘Mission Potholes’ was well organized as Admins of the blog appointed project co-ordinators in different districts, created document files which can be edited by members to fill in their names voluntarily and mobilized the entire campaign with a centralized online unit.

 

In Zunheboto, more than 300 bloggers turned up in the main town with fishing nets, rods and rice saplings to highlight their discontent with the muddy roads which is the only lifeline which connects the beautiful district to the rest of the world. As the pictures with smiling protestors splashed across the newspaper front pages, bloggers in Wokha were busy mobilizing their next mission.

 

In the middle of Wokha town, bloggers sang their rendition of Bob Dylan’s “Blowing in the Wind” which went “How many roads must a man walk down, before you fall into the ditch? How many cars and mansions do you need; with all the miseries around you? Yes, how many goons and guns do you need; to become the messiah of the mass? The answer my friend is blowing in the wind.” Protestors poured into the streets and sang songs, played mud wrestling in the potholes while admins of The Naga Blog joined the group in making it a memorable day for the denizens of Wokha.

 

Next stop was Mokokchung where the potholes got all the attention they deserved with bloggers striking a titanic pose in a small boat sailing across a gigantic pothole in the middle of the town. The wave of ‘Mission Potholes’ slowly spread across other districts including Phek where students joined in and bloggers also helped in filling up the potholes. Bloggers in Tuensang and Mon were gearing up to execute the mission marking the dawn of a fresh new smiley revolution sweeping across the region initiated by the new generation filled with zeal and dream of a developed and corruption free land.

 

The protests across the State was not met with violence but smiles and the Government also responded positively by inviting the organizers to a talk show called “Trends in Nagaland” on Doordarshan North-East. Taking part in the discussion, Commissioner and Secretary C&S (Works & Housing) IAS Temjen Toy and President Nagaland Contractors and Suppliers’ Union, Pele Khezhie interacted with students and representatives from The Naga Blog. Responding to a Naga Blogger’s query on the amount received by the department in the current year, Toy informed that it had been allocated with Rs.250 Crores under Plan which ultimately will be utilised for upgradation and improvement of roads. Stating that the intricacies of government procedure do not permit spending money under plan on maintenance, he however said efforts are being made by the department for which the central government has been appraised to spend money under Plan on maintenance as well.

 

Speaking on the geologist’s perspective on the formation of potholes on roads, Dr. Hovithal Sothu, state coordinator, state disaster management cell, ATI said rocks used on Nagaland roads consist of young barail sandstones which weaken when heavy loaded vehicles ply on them. Dr. Sothu said Kohima is located above the Disang basement which constitute of soft rocks which are fine grained and absorb lot of water that do not give out the absorbed water thereby resulting in dampening of the rocks. He suggested that geologists and expert opinions should be incorporated in any mega projects undertaken by the government through the contractors. One of the blogger Susan Lotha termed the mission as “A new wave and something unique cutting across age and generation to show a people friendly, government friendly form of protest and not just a blatant agitation.”

 

Unlike other protests where people march the streets with slogans, even resorting to violence and forgetting about it the next day, ‘Mission Potholes’ has a new age approach laying its foundation on humour and mobilized centrally by The Naga Blog using technology for effective communication with systematic planning and execution. The protest did not end up in a one day affair nor a fruitless agitation but positive outcomes came in the form of healthy interactions with Government officials on live television and heavy repairing of roads were witnessed day after.

 

The writer is the Creator and Admin of The Naga Blog. An electronics engineer by day and singer by night where he performs at this lounge called “Out of the Blue” in Pune.