Nagalandís constricted choice
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Lately, Nagaland has become the centre of a political duel between the state's contesting parties as well as between the UPA and the BJP. Never before has Nagaland seen such a rich galaxy of star campaigners, such as Sonia Gandhi, Smriti Irani, Rahul Gandhi, A.K. Antony, and others. Ironically, it is an indication that Nagaland is definitely a part of mainstream politics.
The parties in the fray are the NPF (Naga People's Front), BJP, JD(U), UNDP (United Naga Democratic Party), NC, SP, NCP, RJD, Congress and a host of independents. The odds seem to favour the NPF not only because of its charismatic leader Neiphiu Rio, but also because of a pre-poll alliance with the BJP and JD(U). The Congress is yet to form an alliance, nor does it have a leader of Rio's stature. In this light, the outcome appears predictable. However, Nagaland's political iceberg hides more than it reveals, and it might turn political winds in a different direction.
There have been some dismally bad policies from the NPF-led DAN (Democratic Alliance of Nagaland) government in its second term, such as the bogus teachers scam. Another was the road shows coinciding with the tribal festivals. The aim was to showcase development since the NPF-DAN came to power. Instead, these earned infamy for becoming a campaign trail that severely strained the state exchequer. Another controversial policy was the Nagaland Retirement from Public Employment (second amendment) Act of 2009, by which thousands of government employees were retired as soon as they completed 60 years or had worked for 35 years, whichever was earlier. They were thrown out of their jobs and given an unplanned retirement. The government's excuse was that the drastic step was meant to provide employment to youth. Much distaste for the NPF has been shown, especially by women, for its refusal to implement 33 per cent reservation for women in local bodies. Its talk on gender equity does not hold water and is considered an "eyewash" by the Joint Action Committee for Women Reservation. The NPF, despite being popular, projects itself as a regional party, a male-dominated one not on friendly terms with neighbouring states. The Congress, during its undisturbed rule of a decade prior to 2003, was on peaceful terms with neighbours.
The NPF is also accused of patronising the NSCN-IM, allowing their meddling in policymaking and making undue concessions. Despite these accusations, the NPF has been able to project itself as a proactive, youth-friendly government with a dynamic leader. The Congress, on the other hand, has a lacklustre leadership, appears divided, and even Chingwang Konyak, a senior leader from eastern Nagaland, resigned recently. This has clearly paralysed the Congress as a large chunk of its support base left with him.
The NPF came to power with the promise that the protracted Naga problem would soon be solved. Ever since, peace-hungry Nagas have been captivated by this promise. It is 10 years now, with the promise still at large. The NPF has used this to its advantage by stoking the flames, asserting that the final solution is near and the NPF is the party to make it happen. The Congress was unable to nurture this common hope when in power and in opposition. Politics in Nagaland, therefore, is a clear divide between national and regional aspirations. There is apprehension that if the Congress is voted to power, this hope will fizzle out and peace talks will reach a dead-end. However, the Congress has played its role as an opposition party by exposing corruption and the high-handedness of the party in power.
There are some positive trends. The Nagaland Baptist Church Council has gone on a warfooting for a clean election. Its influence is big, as 99 per cent inhabitants are Christians. Another positive feature is the open contempt for NSCN cadres' involvement in the campaign. This shows the empowerment of the once fear-stricken people.
The ultimate deciding factor is eastern Nagaland, with its bargaining power of 20 seats in the assembly of 60. The remaining districts show their political leanings and are easy to predict. Eastern Nagaland is turning out to be the silent kingmaker. Its demand for a separate state called "Frontier Nagaland" gives a new face to its bargaining power, and eastern Nagas may lean towards the party sensitive to their demand and willing to appease them like the NPF. If only the electorate would measure candidates and parties on the scale of development, stability, peace, education, employment, governance, gender equity, health and infrastructure and vote accordingly.
The writer is an assistant professor of political science, Fazl Ali college, Nagaland
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