|As evening falls, a boy sits at the foot of a large rock memorial that stands some distance from Khonoma village. It was built in memory of Khrisanisa Seyie, the ‘First President of the Federal Government of Nagaland’. Picture by Pranab Bora
Nagaland is in transition. Howling gales are sweeping across the high mountains of Kohima. In a few weeks from now, its mountain slopes would have changed, from a Dylanesque Hazel’s dirty-blonde hair to a beautiful, warm green, the last of the pink and white petunias in gardens making way for dahlias and Euphorbias and fireballs in hilly homesteads and cobblestone walkways….
Nagaland is in transition. The once silky-smooth drive that climbed the steep slopes between Dimapur and Kohima is now a mess with potholes deep enough to test the resilience of many an SUV.
Yet, as trucks and jeeps wheeze their way up to the squeaks of spring-leaf suspensions, dozens zip past. “Full time 4-wheel drive” Toyota Fortuners with red beacons are a favourite.
In Dimapur, the commercial hub of the state, where the climb to Kohima starts, snazzy car showrooms are the latest show stealers: Renault, Ford, Hyundai, and a showroom of JCB earthmovers, an index of widening roads and diminishing mountains.
“A new business environment has developed in Nagaland over the past 10 to 15 years,” says Basu Damani, a second-generation Marwari businessman in Dimapur. “A lot of people from here now go out to work, and the Naga people have been very accommodative.” Damani is general secretary (finance) of the Naga People’s Front, the most prominent regional party in the state.
Nagaland is truly in transition: vehicles aren’t stopped by Assam Rifles jawans anymore between Dimapur and Kohima; the bunker-like outpost that overlooks the road at Piphema, the mid-point between Dimapur and Kohima, now seems more like a showpiece than anything else.
In earlier times, before the peace process between the Union government and Isak-Muivah faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-IM) began in 1997, a machine gun would stare down at you from the outpost, while, for the umpteenth time along the 74km road, you had had to open the same bag for the Assam Rifles to check.
Peace has taken its time coming to Nagaland. The second, rival faction of the NSCN, led by S.S. Khaplang, entered into a ceasefire with the Union government in 2001. Just now, as Delhi and the IM faction continue to talk, Khaplang and his boys wait in the wings, watching which way the parleys will swing.
Now as one waits at the deputy commissioner’s office in Dimapur for an inner line permit, a senior district official lets you in on a secret: “For these elections, we have received just 30 companies of central security forces for the entire state. During our last Assembly elections in 2013, we had received 30 companies for Dimapur district alone.”
Dimapur is one of Nagaland’s 11 districts. “The people of Nagaland,” he goes on to say, “are laid back when it comes to parliamentary elections. As you know, we have only one seat.”
Yet, it’s not as if no one’s fighting these polls. It’s none less than chief minister Neiphiu Rio of the Naga People’s Front, fighting K.V. Pusa of the Congress here. Akhei Achumi of the Socialist Party of India is the candidate that makes it a three-way contest. If Rio wins the Lok Sabha poll, a new chief minister will have to be found for Nagaland.
Sometime in the past 15 years, the Naga struggle has gone from a fierce war against “occupational forces of India” to “the Naga political problem”. The residues of the transition are what perhaps make up the state’s modern-day regional politics. The Naga People’s Front is entrenched and has been in power in the state for 11 years now.
At Khonoma, 22km from Kohima, the village that was home to Angami Zapu Phizo, the founder of the Naga National Council (NNC) that fired the first bullets of defiance in the jungles of Nagaland in the 1950s, Thejangu Meyase, 29, represents a new generation of Nagas.
“Our generation does not have so many problems with the Indian government, unlike our seniors who suffered at their hands,” he says.
In terms of preference, though, it is still the NPF “as it is more regional”.
Yet, concluding that the Naga cause has been compromised would be grossly unrealistic. While the GREF (General Reserve Engineer Force) has built a massive highway beside Khonoma right through the heart of Naga insurgency, no one dare touch the large memorial to Khrisanisa Seyie, the “First President of the Federal Government of Nagaland”. “Nagas are not Indians; their territory is not part of the Indian union,” the plaque on the giant monolith quotes Seyie. “We shall uphold and defend this unique truth at all costs and always.”
Nearby, a second memorial commemorates the contributions of “General” Mozu Gwizantsu, “commander-in-chief of the Naga Army”.
“Khonoma gratefully remembers him and the dauntless men he led in far-flung battles to defend the right of their people as a nation,” the plaque says.
The NNC would in the 1980s cede much space to the breakaway NSCN that would take forward the battle through a split and many a blood spill, till the relative calm of the early 2000s.
Within Khonoma, now a village of 3,500 people, some wounds still run deep. “In loving memory of Methavi Chasie ASI of Schools, Kohima who was put to death on 29th April 1955 by the Sikh regiment,” says a grave.
Thejangu Meyase, though, is 29 and born much after. On April 9, he will go to vote.
As will young Avou Angami who sells flowers on the Dimapur-Kohima highway. The season for dahlias, she says, will soon be here.
The Telegraph is introducing an occasional election feature titled Decade Decoder that seeks to bring out through a question-and-answer session whether lives have changed for the better or the worse in the past decade. The newspaper spoke to a young couple who were leaving a primary health centre in Assam with their newborn.Assam has a bouquet of schemes for expectant mothers who are given Rs 500 twice during their second and third ante natal check-ups for nutritious food. They are picked up for delivery by ambulances and tests and C-section, if required, are free at the civil hospital. The mothers leave the hospital between 24 and 48 hours, sent home by SUVs marked Adoroni (welcome inAssamese). Forty-eight hours after delivery, a scheme entitles the mother to a pack of Horlicks and the baby a kit of soap, a mosquito net and a blanket. All health facilities for the babyup to the age of 1 are free. For a girl child, Rs 5,000 will be deposited, which can be encashed by her when she turns 18.
|Kulson on his way from the primary health centre to his home. Picture by Pranab Bora
Names: Md Kulson Ali, 26; wife Beauty Begum, 19;child Umma Fatima Begum, 1 day
Profession: Kulson is a day labourer. So are his three brothers. The family has 3 bighas of farmland
Education: Kulson did not go to school, wife Beauty Begum passed Class VIII
Place: Natun Sorabori, 10km from the primary health centre at Hajo, around 30km from Guwahati
Do you save more or less compared with 2004?
More. The family saved Rs 2,000 a month in 2004. Now it saves Rs 4,000 a month
What does your house now have that it did not have in 2004?
A second-hand bicycle. A pesticide spray, brought recently for Rs 500.
How did you travel then and how do you travel now?
Have to cross a water body near the village by boat during the monsoon. The road the village got under the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMJSY) three years ago is a big thing.
Have you ever been on a train?
Would you like to go on Haj?
Yes, says Kulson’s mother Chandra Bhanu, 55
Do you have a bank account?
Kulson: Yes, my wife recently got one at Allahabad Bank
Has NREGA (the rural job scheme) made any difference to your life?
Our family gets about seven days of work per month under the NREGA at Rs 155 per day. (On the remaining days, Kulson and his three brothers work for others if a chance comes by, for which they earn Rs 200 each daily. The family also harvests around 20 quintals of paddy a year)
Do you have electricity in your village?
Not yet. But they laid the cables about two months ago
How much will it cost to take an electricity connection and can you afford it?
It will cost about Rs 5,000 and we will take it
Do you encounter more corruption or less in your daily life?
Kulson: We don’t go out much. We haven’t had to pay bribes while getting free seeds. We were also not asked for money at the health centre
What was the last movie you have seen and when?
Do you know how much a “CD cassette” costs?
Do you own one? Do you hire CD cassettes?
Kulson: It costs about Rs 3,500 (the CD player) but I don’t have one. You can hire a CD player for Rs 100 but our family doesn’t do that.
(Video parlours in rural Assam hire out CD players and TV sets to watch movies for Rs 100 or more a night in villages. Often, they are battery-driven because of the absence of power connection in a village.)
Do you have a cellphone?
Kulson: Yes. I brought my first cellphone two years ago
What do you do with the cellphone?
Make calls. Take pictures (Kulson’s cell phone has a camera). Hasn’t watched movies on this phone
Do you run out of money to buy food towards the end of the month?
No we don’t
Do you have more or less pairs of clothes compared with 2004?
Kulson used to make do with two pairs of clothes earlier. Now he has three
What is your biggest regret in the past 10 years?
That I didn’t go to school
Will you send Umma to school?
Yes, I will, says Beauty Begum
Till how long?
Beauty Begum: If she is good in studies then as long as she wants to study.
Kulson: I will send her till higher secondary (Class 12). We will not marry her off young.
You have your first baby now. How big a family do you want?
Kulson: Two children
Why not more than two children?
Kulsan: Because I want to send them to school
You were supposed to receive Rs 500 twice during your wife’s pregnancy. Have you received it?
Not yet. They will transfer it now to our bank account
Are you happier or sadder now? Why?
Happier. Things are better.
Nagaland votes on April 9