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Stuck in the sidelines

Kohima, Feb. 18: Senayangba Chubatoshi Jamir, 83, one of the few active Congress leaders of the Nehru-era has retired, or almost. The five-time Nagaland chief minister and former governor of Goa, Maharashtra and Gujarat will not contest Assembly elections next week.

Don’t go by his age for he is still feared by his Congress colleagues as one who could upset party equations and would not let others get the better of him. Local party pressures and a conscious decision to give in to the diktat of the Congress high command impelled him to keep out of the process.

After all, fellow Congressmen who have not tasted power for a decade with him and for a decade without him, did not want another return of Jamir to spoil their potential chances, if at all the party returns to power.

The situation presents a paradox for the Congress. Without the political cunning of Jamir, it is difficult to stump the well-entrenched Neiphiu Rio-led Naga People's Front. With Jamir, others cannot imagine to be chief minister. There were even moves for a third front to be made if Jamir continues “his lust for power”, according to sources.

Whatever be the reasons, Jamir was not even included in the candidate selection committee headed by Veerappa Moily. They couldn’t possibly have, as the octogenarian had proposed finalising of tickets in Nagaland while agreeing to contest the elections last month, even though Delhi always wants a say.

Or, was it his wish not to be a part of the process? After all, the turnaround took place only a few days ahead of the launch of the poll campaign for reasons not yet known.

Ask Jamir and he sounds relaxed. “I am moving about freely. Yesterday I was in Mon and today in Tuli,” he told The Telegraph, while travelling early on Friday.

Jamir, a parliamentary secretary under Jawaharlal Nehru, who observed Nikita Khrushchev and the like at United Nations, may have retired. But perhaps, Jamir the politician may not have played his last innings.

For the record though, he is on the sidelines. His brother, S.I. Jamir, heads the state Congress. But the only living signatory of the 16-point agreement that gave Nagaland statehood in 1963, is more in touch with the party’s Ashoka Road office than his own brother.

From his own constituency, Aonglenden, from where he lost in May 2011 by over 1,300 votes, there is a younger face this time. That time, NSCN (I-M) was known to have been actively involved in an anti-Jamir campaign.

In fact, Jamir’s wane has been owing to his unabashed stand on Indian nationalism. His statement that “Nagas were never an independent nation” in a booklet Bedrock of Naga Society in 2003, was turned into the focal point for the then Opposition NPF’s campaign. In the subsequent years, as Rio rode the wave of Naga nationalism, his mentor lost direct power.

However, Jamir’s political acumen and its results are solely the function of and subject to his health. But you may count him out at your own peril; he still enjoys his game of badminton, reads voraciously and writes furiously.