Nagaland Assembly polls: Congress has ceded ground almost to point of no return
In 1977, when Congress candidate V Lasuh faced disqualification during an election in Nagaland's Phek district, the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi sent her own lawyer to sort the problem out. Subsequently, in the '90s the Grand Old Party ran the government in the state for 10 straight years under veteran SC Jamir. It had no opposition in half of those years.
With Assembly elections round the corner, the Congress leaders are reportedly reduced to campaigning out of their homes. “Neither are there funds nor the motivation to fight back,” a senior state party leader said. The Congress couldn't even find candidates for half the seats.
Just ahead of filing nominations, a young leader and old loyalist Medokul Sophie quit the party and joined the Nationalist People’s Party. He was suspended last month by party leader K.Therie, alleging factionalism. “It was then that the central leadership decided to send a leader here. Nagaland in-charge CP Joshi visited the state for the first time in the three years since he took charge,” Sophie said.
At one time the only national party to have a strong presence in the frontier states, despite insurgency, is today virtually non-existent. As for election campaigning, the party has little to do except issuing press releases from time to time.
Bete noire BJP, on the other hand, has a long list of campaigners including PM Narendra Modi and state in-charge Kiren Rijiju. The party has been camping in the state for days. In contrast, the Congress sent its secretary Jayakumar and MP Gaurav Gogoi who camped for a couple of days at former president I Imkong’s Dimapur residence.
“Rahul Gandhi may come after 22 February,” said senior leader Imkong, unsure whether the party chief would actually make the trip. “We have put a proposal; now it is up to them,” he added. Gandhi has shown little interest in wresting back the states that were traditionally Congress bastions, with the exception of some interest in Meghalaya.
The last time a senior leader was seen in the state was during the 2013 elections when Sonia Gandhi addressed a rally in Dimapur. “It is up to the AICC to decide,” said Therie, who is contesting an uneven battle in Pfutsero.
Crestfallen and neglected, the ground machinery has disappeared; cadres have joined regional parties like the Naga People’s Front and the newly created Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party. “There is no interest by the central leadership even to put up a symbolic fight,” a senior Congress candidate said.
Even in the early '90s, under Narasimha Rao, senior leaders visited the state and offered a unilateral ceasefire to the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah). “This paved the way for peace negotiations; and look at us now,” a leader said in discernible self pity.
From former chief minister Neiphiu Rio now leading NDPP and Therie to former CM TR Zeliang and his followers, everyone learned the political ropes with the Congress. First due to Jamir’s one-man leadership and later due to the central leadership’s disinterest, the party simply disappeared even from the Naga mindspace.
“My people wanted me to contest elections and clearly not on a Congress ticket,” said Medokul, who is contesting from Southern Angami-1. Chances of reviving the GOP were missed by the state and central units alike.
During the second innings of the United Progressive Allaince government at in New Delhi, the central leadership wanted Rio to return to the Congress fold, but the local unit was against it. Factionalism has been the bane of the party across the country and Nagaland is no exception.
Today, the party has reached a juncture where it has to even declare support to former opponent NPF. “We will support secular parties where we are not contesting,” Therie announced recently. Even his party seemed to believe that a fight by the Congress would have been worth it. One NPF source said that in the face of the NDPP-BJP alliance, the NPF would not mind taking support from a few Congress MLAs in the scenario of a hung Assembly.
“The problem with the Congress announcement about supporting us is that they hardly have any cadres on the ground,” an NPF source said. For the BJP and NDPP, the deafeatist tendency of the Congress is the recipe for filling up a vacuum for a non-existent Opposition.
Even in Tripura, the absence of campaigning or failure to prevent the BJP from poaching its MLAs the BJP is devouring the non-Left space left behind. In Nagaland, an anti-incumbency against NPF has resulted in benefits to the NDPP-BJP combine as the Congress washes its hands off Nagaland.
Edited by Joyjeet Das