Nagaland Polls: ENPO, NPF to Fight Solo as Congress Plans Anti-BJP Front; CPI to be in Fray
Representational Image. Image Courtesy: PTI
Kolkata: Several interesting developments have marked Nagaland's usually complicated political situation, where Assembly elections are due in a few weeks. Dialogue between New Delhi and numerous Naga tribal groups on what has come to be termed over the years as ‘an agreed political solution’ has gained fresh momentum in recent months. This has apparently happened in the context of the upcoming Assembly elections and warnings of some outfits to dissociate themselves from the exercise if an agreed political solution remains elusive.
More or less, the same situation had prevailed before the 2018 Assembly elections, but the Union government then succeeded in holding elections.
A coalition ministry with the Bharatiya Janata Party as the partner of chief minister Neiphiu Rio’s National Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP), had come into being with a strength of around 35 MLAs in the 60-member house. Subsequently, in 2021, there was a rethink on the part of the political parties, and they felt they should come together on one platform to fortify their demand for a solution to the ‘Naga problem’, which essentially meant a separate administrative arrangement with full control over the development apparatus.
Thus, 21 out 25 MLAs of the Naga People’s Front (NPF), which once ruled the state, joined NDPP. Even the remaining four NPF members and two independents decided to support the Rio ministry. It came to be known as the United Democratic Alliance government. The Congress, which “half-heartedly” contested 18 seats and drew a blank, ceased to be a factor. Nagaland had an Opposition-less government.
The most important of the recent political developments is the demand of the Eastern Nagaland People’s Organisation (ENPO) for forming a separate state under the name and style of Frontier Nagaland, carved out of the 16 districts. The eastern part of the state comprises six economically backward districts – Mon, Tuensang, Kiphire, Longleng, Noklak and Shamator -- which are inhabited by seven tribes, comprising Chang, Khiamniungan, Konyak, Phom, Sangtam, Tikhir and Yimkhiung.
The ENPO leadership has been articulating their demand for a separate state citing a total lack of development in this part of the state and they have also thrown enough hints of their disinclination to take part in voting if their demand is not met before the elections.
The fact that Union Home Ministry officials, who are holding parleys with outfits identified with insurgency, are also talking to the ENPO teams suggests that New Delhi is taking serious note of their grievances. ENPO president R Tsapikiu Sangtam told NewsClick that several rounds of talks have taken place, but they are not able to say anything concrete at the moment. “We are being patiently heard by the Union government officials. The state government is acting as the facilitator for the dialogue,” Tsapikiu added.
Significantly, on the ENPO demand, the state BJP chief and minister for higher education and tribal affairs Temjen Imna Along Longkumer did not appear to be concerned while interacting with NewsClick. Along said, “They have grievances; certainly, some of those are genuine. But those are not beyond reconciliation. There has to be give and take; I would rather treat it as a matter within a family. Their main complaint is about the deprivation of the people of the eastern part. Four of the six districts are quite backward. I am optimistic about an understanding.”
The second development of political import is the NPF leadership’s move to distance itself from chief minister Rio’s party and battle it out on its own at the hustings. NPF is an established outfit. The move may be seen as an attempt to build an alternative to NDPP and be open to post-poll alliance. So far, it has not responded to Nagaland Congress president Kewekhape Therie’s proposal for an anti-BJP combine of secular, progressive forces. Therie confirmed to NewsClick that he has invited NPF to be part of an alliance he has in mind. Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party and some regional outfits have also been invited. The Congress is taking the election seriously this time round, and senior AICC functionaries have been visiting the state at regular intervals to tone up the unit’s functioning and identify possible partners willing to be led by the Congress, Therie said. The functionaries include Mukul Wasnik, Ajay Kumar and Ranajoy Mukherjee.
The third development that warrants mention is that, perhaps, for the first time, a Left Front constituent, the Communist Party of India, will be in the fray with at least one candidate. CPI opened its office at Kohima on August 24, 2022 with M M Thromwa Konayak as its state secretary. CPI veteran in Manipur, M Nara Singh has been assigned to oversee the organisational aspects. A decision about fielding a candidate will be made on January 24, Nara told NewsClick. The party will work among the downtrodden and fight widespread corruption, according to Thromwa. The Congress chief has also invited CPI to be part of the proposed secular formation, it is learnt. This may figure at the January 24 meeting. The seat CPI seems to have in view is 45 Tehok in the backward Mon district, which forms part of the ENPO ‘jurisdiction’.
BJP chief Along indicated that the party would contest 20 seats, the same as in 2018 (it had won 12). He also confirmed that BJP would remain NDPP’s partner. He is optimistic about the victory of the NDPP-BJP alliance.
Congress sources contacted by NewsClick indicated that the party is against the BJP-led NDA government’s proposal to introduce the Uniform Civil Code. It is apprehensive of losing special protection of customary laws and religious rights if UCC is implemented. The state’s population has a huge percentage of Christians, and the Centre is duty-bound to safeguard their religious freedom. The party is also against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2019. The Congress suspects that implementing the CAA will ensure full protection for illegal Bangladeshi immigrants settled in Nagaland, and the Nagas will have no right to raise voices against them.
As of now, indications are that the stand of NPF, the role that ENPO may play and the ability of the Congress to emerge as a factor are likely to influence voters’ choices in Nagaland. The insurgency has been a fact of life in the state for many years since its formation on December 1, 1963 as the sixteenth state of the Indian Union.
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