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Fingers crossed as battle draws closer

Mangkolemba (Mokokchung), Feb. 18: There is little room for kindness in times of battle, they say, especially when face-offs threaten to be bloody.

As Nagaland chief minister Neiphiu Rio fights to retain, and the Congress to wrest, power, the flow of both money and weapons is unprecedented days ahead of polls.

Nyiemli Phom, the NPF candidate in remote Longleng, was found carrying Rs 1 crore in cash near the helipad shortly after a chopper took off on Saturday, sources said. Local police seized the money but inquiries found no VIP had landed at the helipad.

Chief electoral officer J. Alam said, “The money was seized from a person by the name of Nyiemli Phom who alighted from the helicopter. But he says it is his party money.” A detailed report on the incident is awaited, he added.

In Mokokchung district, the tension is palpable despite the laughter and good food by the hearths. Villagers confess the fear of violence is more than previous elections.

For Bendang Longkumer, the local Congress unit treasurer in Janpetkong constituency, forgetting the catheter stuck to his belly after an intestinal surgery last month, was, therefore, not an option as he busied himself. Similar seemed to be the case with the men and women on the ground for the other three candidates.

Mangkolemba, a 70-odd km of a bumpy ride from district headquarters, Mokokchung, is tense, as the spectre of violence looms large mostly on the two days before February 23, polling day. Apprehending trouble from all three NSCN factions and private individuals, the local church organised a prayer walk this week attended by some 200 villagers.

At Longtho village in the neighbouring Alongtaki constituency, women from the local Baptist church stop vehicles at a gate manned by the Assam Rifles and thoroughly check vehicles for liquor. In Molungkimong, the police are understood to have seized arms, including an AK-56 from a local youth.

Such is the climate that Congress candidate I. Imkong chose a strategic location that he calls a camp — a humble house. “The ground above is the security force camp and nearby is the police station,” he said.

The NPF supporters could not agree more with their opponent. They set up camp replete with a community kitchen and tent in a house next door, both houses in the shadow of the Mangkolemba church overseeing a mountain range.

Imkong hails from Changki village, which he was forced to leave after a bitter dispute over the history of the village. The village that has close to 2,500 votes of the 10,000-odd electorate, has this time fielded its own Independent candidate, former bureaucrat E.T. Sunep.

Two other big villages — Khar and Waromong — have also put up candidates K. Chuba, a former IAS officer, and NPF’s Longri Ao, apparently as challengers to Imkong.

With money a strength with most, the next step is usually muscle.

The only way out is repeated reminders to young people, says Longrila Ao, a septuagenarian former local Mahila Congress unit head. Longrila, known in the local Congress circles as “Indira Gandhi” ironically, for being a peacenik, attended the prayer walk.