Nagaland elections approach conundrum: No parties may contest
It may just happen that elections may be boycotted in the then Naga Hills for the first time since the 'Plebiscite' of 1951, and result in President’s Rule.
Eleven representatives of major parties including the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Naga People’s Front (NPF), Nationalist Democratic People’s Party (NDPP) and Congress signed a document in Kohima on Monday. The signing was at the state-run Hotel Japfu, the usual rendezvous for important meetings.
Sources said the tribal bodies could force closure of the chief electoral officer’s office if a gazette notification is issued on 31 January. After the 16 May Plebiscite by the AZ Phizo-led Naga National Council, it had boycotted the 1952 general elections that was followed by violence.
A similar backdrop is once again appearing on the misty landscape: “The undersigned on behalf of all the political parties and the intending candidates have, in compliance with the wishes of the people, decided not to go ahead with issuance of party tickets or filing of nominations,” says the joint declaration signed in presence of tribal Hohos (apex social bodies of each tribe) and rebel group representatives.
Ironically, the agreement to pave way for boycotting the polls was signed on a day when Union minister of state for home, Kiren Rijiju, was in Kohima.
“We are bound by the Constitution of India. Elections are only going to facilitate the Naga peace process,” said Rijiju. “The government of India is committed to the peace process,” he said of the 20-year talks with the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah).
Rijiju and BJP General Secretary Ram Madhav held a series of meetings with partymen and a marathon with likely ally Naga People's Front (NPF) President Shurhozelie Liezietsu.
Over the past few weeks, NGOs, tribal Hohos and rival rebel groups came together with the slogan: “Solution before election”. In a society where tribal and clan affiliations are existential, political party representatives are compelled to toe the line of tribal bodies notwithstanding their wariness.
“We have committed and in our society, a word given is final,” said Nationalis Democratic Progressive Party Working President Alemtemshi Jamir. The former bureaucrat attended the meeting in lieu of president and former parliamentarian Chinwang Konyak who, the former said, was unwell.
Who will blink first
Political party representatives may have signed the document but few political parties are in a mood to release a statement saying they would not contest polls.
“There is uncertainty. If any political party files a single nomination then we may have to file nominations despite our respect for wishes of Naga people,” said a source in the NPF. “Many feel the BJP wants to do a repeat of what the Congress did in 1998,” says the source.
In 1998, only the Congress and a few independents contested the elections after a boycott call by the NSCN (IM) and NGOs. Congress won uncontested. Rumours are that the BJP may want to do the same this time round.
“In that case, we would have to be ready,” says a leader from NDPP who has Lok Sabha MP, Neiphiu Rio as the chief ministerial candidate. NDPP has committed not to file nominations but a list of candidates has been kept ready – just in case.
Rijiju and Madhav who arrived yesterday, are camping for one more day in Dimapur. Sources in likely ally NPF said that the home minister was certainly not in Nagaland to declare that the nationalist party would boycott polls already annonuced by the Election Commission of India (ECI).
An intelligence source here said that BJP signatory Kheto Sema later said he was not authorised by his party president. BJP leaders could not be contacted.
Unprecedented unity against elections
Over a month now, the usual bickering of tribal organisations and rebel groups has stopped. The one voice is of “Solution not/before election”.
The united platform is called the Core Committee of Nagaland Tribal Hohos and Civil Organisations (CCNTHCO). The challenge for New Delhi also stems from a united voice of all the rebel groups, who were at loggerheads for years.
Attending Monday's joint meeting wer seven members each from the NSCN (IM) and NNPG Working Committee. The NNPG is short for Naga National Political Groups, is a conglomeration of rebel groups including splinter groups from the NSCN and Naga National Council. They are now agreeable to a settlement or Solution.
For the NSCN (IM) and the tribal groups, it will be a prestige issue. So will it for the Narendra Modi government which wants to hoist the saffron flag in the frontier state this season.
“What will happen if people start filing nominations under paramilitary protection,” asked an NPF leader. A boycott is a probability and elections, possibility.
Amid the boycott call, the BJP does not seem to be giving up. That the BJP is intending to contest the polls, was borne out by sources saying Sema, the signatory, was removed from the party after the signing ceremony in Kohima. Former chief minister and Atoizu candidate of BJP, KL Chishi released a programme for a campaign event to be held on 3 February 3.
Edited by Joyjeet Das