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Nagaland polls: Marred by money and muscle

Catch Team | Updated on: 26 February 2018, 19:03 IST
(Arya Sharma / Catch News)

Manbo’s lean frame betrayed his determination on what he wants from his future leaders.

Sitting by the hearth and sipping Burmese coffee brewed in Indian milk, the young lad spoke his mind to a bunch of journalists and his childhood friends. “Considering what these people do and how they behave, I have no expectations from them,” he said after a pause.

The venue is a small house three feet away from the physically non-existent international border between the two countries. Longwa is an oddity of a village and the international border passes through its middle, even splitting the house of the Chief Angh, or king of Longwa, Tonyie.

Longwa lies in the Phomching constituency of Nagaland, due for polling on 27 February. It is part of the frontier Mon district that has nine constituencies.

Manbo Konyak, a postgraduate in political science and educated in “big cities” like Dimapur and Kohima, is one of the young voters. It is quite natural that he is frustrated with corruption in the political system and the violence that accompanies electioneering in Nagaland.

Roads have not been built for years, the power supply system has crumbled, there are hardly any jobs without bribing or political pull and young people travel to big cities for higher education. People seem to feel why not get as much money from the politicians who build palatial houses beside potholed roads.

A show of money and muscle is unabashed in this frontier state. “The opposition NPF (Naga People’s Front) is spending huge amounts. One candidate gave a quintal of rice to every family and Rs 1,000 to every voter back in December,” said Chingwang Konyak, president of the newly formed Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP). Konyak was once a member of Parliament from Congress.

NDPP, led by former chief minister Neiphiu Rio, and CM TR Zeliang have hired a chopper each, flying around to distant villages to address small groups and particularly, village council chairmen. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), an ally of NDPP, has also hired a helicopter to go around the state of hardly two million people.

On the face of it, the bombastic issues of “an alien party (BJP)” or “stability and development” are bandied around in the local press. The ground reality, however, is uglier than rosy prose.

At Tuli in Mokokchung district, government-appointed Dobashis (interpreters from the British era) stood alongside police forces. Four of these old men donning red jackets had disturbed brows, looking out for trouble.

An NDPP worker was literally stoned to death after being accosted by a group from the Opposition. “The NDPP and NPF are fighting and we are telling them to keep the peace but these young men drink and fight,” said N Kumzuk, a Dobashi for 23 years.

Mokokchung town, the smallest constituency in the state but also the district headquarters is the hub of political activity for deals. And violence.

“There is only the talk of money, money and money and muscle power,” says a hotel employee, T Ao.

In neighbouring Wokha constituency, a 93-year-old man’s home was burnt down allegedly by NPF members because his son M Humtsoe is contesting from the Janata Dal (United). There are two contestants from Wokha village and Humtsoe was not allowed to enter even his own village to campaign.

In Nagaland, where the village is the most important unit socially and politically, it is common during elections that a candidate may not be allowed to enter his own village if the opponent is strong enough. Muscle power, in turn, is dependent on money, clan relations and family relations. Disturbances are highest in villages from where more than one candidate is contesting. Wokha, Chuchuyimlang and Merangkong are some villages that are cases in point. 

There is a silver lining in this dark political cloud, though. Villager after village, constituency after constituency reported that the undergrounds are keeping away from the elections.

“There is hardly any involvement of the undergrounds this time,” said Bannyei Konyak, the gaon burra (GB) or village elder, at Phomching.

There are over half-a-dozen outfits in the state, including the National Socialist Council of Nagaland [NSCN] (Isak-Muivah), NSCN (Kitovi-Neokpao), NSCN (Reformation), the proscribed NSCN (Khaplang) and three factions of the Naga National Council, once led by the famous AZ Phizo. Consecutive elections have seen armed men from these insurgent groups getting politically involved.

“I have not heard of anyone involvement or movement from their side,” said Chingwang.

This year, most groups had advocated “Solution before Election”. They wanted a settlement to the Naga political problem and not hold state elections. Although the BJP and later other political parties did not heed to the call and carried on, the outfits had till the eve of elections not engaged in strong-arm tactics in favour of any party.

During the 2003 elections, the NSCN (IM) and NSCN (K) were known to have engaged in favour of one party or the other. SC Jamir saw the end of his career in Nagaland that year and Neiphiu Rio would see his rise.

This year money and muscle are visible, sans the guns from the “national workers”.

First published: 26 February 2018, 19:03 IST