President of BJP’s All-India Mahila Morcha Smriti Irani at an election rally in East Garo Hills on Monday. Picture by UB Photos
Kohima, Feb. 18: Nagaland home minister Imkong L. Imchen was arrested under the Arms Act today after a cache of arms and Rs 1.10 crore in cash were found in his vehicle, less than a week before the state goes to the polls on Saturday, while a Congress candidate was detained after Rs 4 lakh in cash was found on him.
Sources said Imchen spent the night in police custody.
Imchen’s arrest has put egg on the face of the ruling Naga People’s Front (NPF), which is vying for a third term in office on the trot.
Official sources said Assam Rifles personnel, who were on duty near Longsa police checkpost, 6km from Wokha town in Wokha district, intercepted the minister’s convoy and recovered five pistols and two .303 rifles from the SUV he was travelling in. Liquor bottles were also found, they said. Nagaland is a dry state. The minister was on his way to his Koridang Town constituency in Mokokchung district from Kohima.
Wokha deputy commissioner R. Vysan said there were five vehicles in the convoy, which was intercepted near Longsa village at 6.15am.
The police detained the minister at Wokha till evening for investigation before arresting him under non-bailable sections of the Arms Act. He was arrested after an FIR was filed. Vysan said the authorities could not file the FIR till late in the evening as the Assam Rifles submitted its report around 2.45pm. Imchen will be produced in court, he added.
The NPF termed the incident “very unfortunate.” Its secretary-general K.G. Kenye said the party did not endorse such acts and was embarrassed but he also appealed to the Election Commission to “have mercy” on Imchen.
He said the home minister had breached the model code of conduct and the Election Commission would take action according to the guidelines but he appealed to the commission to “understand” the situation in the state. He said Imchen could be carrying unlicensed guns as Nagaland was a troubled area. Kenye said the money seized from Imchen was not the party’s but his own.
Poll guidelines bar carrying cash of more than Rs 50,000 by anyone during the election process. The Election Commission has also set a ceiling of Rs 8 lakh as election expenditure for each candidate.
However, allegations are rife in Nagaland that some candidates were distributing large amounts among voters. There is also fear of violence in some areas, as polling day approaches. Mokokchung district is said to be one such area vulnerable area.
Hovithal Sothu, the convener of Clean Election Campaign of Nagaland Baptist Church Council, asked the Election Commission to take action.
The Opposition Congress, too, demanded immediate action against the home minister and also sought an investigation by the National Investigation Agency.
However, its candidate from Sanish Assembly constituency in Wokha district, Salungthung Lotha, was also detained after Rs 4 lakh in cash was found in his vehicle during a routine check by the police and the Assam Rifles in Dimapur today. The deputy commissioner and election observer are probing the case.
Today’s seizures come two days after the Assam Rifles found Rs 1 crore on NPF candidate from Tamlu seat, Nyemli Phom, in Longleng district. The Assam Rifles was alerted after a helicopter landed on its helipad without prior permission. The money was found in Phom’s baggage. He claimed it belonged to the party.