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Nagaland Assembly elections: Boycott calls bring back memories of 1998

Catch Team | Updated on: 27 January 2018, 13:07 IST
(Arya Sharma / Catch News)

In a deja vu of 1998, there are once again frantic calls for a boycott of elections in Nagaland and an ultimatum issued to the Election Commission of India (ECI).

A joint committee of non-government organisations (NGO) was to give an ultimatum to the poll panel to call off elections in the northeastern state before 31 January. Polling is scheduled on 27 February.

A similar call was given jointly by the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) and NGOs in 1998 too. This time round, again, scores of NGOs along with NSCN (Isak-Muivah) have demanded “solution, not election”.

A marathon meeting of powerful tribal bodies and civil society groups was held in Kohima on Thursday.

Boycott ultimatum

Naga Hoho President Chuba Ozukum spoke about sending an ultimatum to the Election Commission to cancel polls. “If they refuse to call off elections before issue of notification, we will issue a boycott call,” he told Catch News.

The commission is due to issue the gazette notification for the Assembly elecions on 31 January.

The NSCN (IM) reiterated its stand and held a joint council meeting at its headquarters Hebron, 40km from Dimapur, Thursday. Steering Committee Convenor Rh Raising called for a solution. Elections would mean Delhi will be at the command of Naga politics and not Nagas themselves, he said.

Holding elections this time would mean undermining of the NSCN demand for a Constitution. “What do we mean by solution, not election? Election is anti-thesis of solution. Solution is about the future of the Nagas whereas election is about the Indian Constitution,” Raising said.

Paradox of Congress and NPF

NSCN and many NGOs are part of a boycott calls, but would political parties agree? The paradox is that Naga People’s Front, the regional giant who boycotted polls in 1998, is against the boycott. Conversely, the Congress party which benefited then, is in favour of a boycott this time.

Even the Bharatiya Janata Party participated in a boycott then. Subsequently, SC Jamir and Congress had five years of uninterrupted administration before young Turks Neiphiu Rio and K Therie dislodged their mentor. At that time, NGOs and the NSCN fully supported the NPF from the sidelines.

Congress is trying the NPF gambit. Therie attended the NGOs' meet in Kohima and supported 'solution before election'. “Let us see if the BJP can live up to the Naga people’s aspiration,” he said.

It was a throwback to a stand of the NPF, led by Rio as a chief ministerial candidate in 1998. The nationalism versus Naga nationalism contest put a stop to Jamir’s long political career in Nagaland.

This time, NPF President Shurhozelie Liezietsu has refused a boycott. “That time the NPF had supported the NSCN and NGOs for allowing them to bring about a solution. Did they?” a senior party source said. “While in power we did a lot of things so we are going to contest the polls, that our president has made clear,” he added.

In fact, Chief Minister TR Zeliang, who is with Liezietsu, reached New Delhi on Thursday to confer with the BJP about an alliance. On 23 January, the NPF resolved to ally with the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA). Rival Rio was also in Delhi to ally his Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP) with the BJP, a visit that reportedly did not work well.

The BJP will hold a parliamentary party meeting on Saturday to decide on who to ally with in the state.

BJP’s predicament

It was with great effort that in 2003, the BJP under directions of Hokishe Sema could win seven seats in a Christian-majority state. It was a kingmaker in 2003. A bonding was achieved by the then Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and the saffron party became a permanent ally in the non-Congress coalition in Nagaland through the 10 years of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA).

A framework agreement blessed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 3 August, 2015 revived a sagging relationship between the NSCN and the BJP. As interlocutor RN Ravi took the negotiation to a new level, announcement of polls is threatening to dampen the tempo again.

If the government wants to support the Naga people, it should call a Union Cabinet meeting and pass the message to the Election Commission to not hold the elections,” an NSCN (IM) source said.

Now the question arises what is to be done if and when the Government of India does not keep the agreement and goes back upon its word?” Raising said Thursday.

For the BJP, however, getting the northeastern states is important. It won Assam and Manipur while entering Arunachal Pradesh from the back door. Among the elections in Tripura, Meghalaya and Nagaland this season, only Nagaland offers the BJP any real chance of calling the shots in government.

Of course we will participate in the elections, the dates have been announced. We are committed to the Constitution of India,” said a BJP legislator in Nagaland, requesting anonymity.

Leave aside calling off elections, the BJP is demanding 15 seats from the NPF for a pre-poll alliance. It is a demand that the NPF is unlikely to give in to, but it indicates how serious BJP is about holding elections despite NSCN (IM) and NGO opposition.

To the BJP’s advantage, others including the NPF are in a mood to contest. It is to be seen if diktats of tribal bodies to not contest polls is followed this time round.

Edited by Joyjeet Das

First published: 27 January 2018, 13:07 IST