The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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In what was touted as one of the most crucial elections in Nagaland since the formation of the state in 1963, the Congress has been routed and the Democratic Alliance of Nagaland — led by the Nagaland People’s Front — has taken charge. The alliance is a prototype of the National Democratic Alliance at the Centre, and as such, has brought much satisfaction to the Centre, as well as to the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah), although it has annoyed the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Khaplang).

Notwithstanding the usual bickering over portfolios in the past week, the results must satisfy the NDA constituents in New Delhi, who have been pursuing talks with the NSCN (I-M)’s leadership, for two reasons. One, the Northeast, Nagaland in particular, has been a bastion of the Congress till recently. Two, the results meant that S.C. Jamir, the Congress chief minister, who ruled the state for the last ten years and had been a thorn in the Centre’s talks with the NSCN (I-M), would have to go.

The new chief minister, Neiphiu Rio, has promised to unite “both undergrounds and overgrounds” and has already given a free hand to non-governmental organizations like the Naga Hoho and the Naga Mothers Association to mediate between the underground elements and the Centre in order to facilitate a political settlement for Nagaland. While the Congress has accused the NPF of being hand-in-glove with the NSCN (I-M), the NPF has accused Jamir of collaborating with the NSCN(K).

Jamir’s incompatibility with the NSCN (I-M) has hurt both the Centre and the regional parties like the NPF. The former chief minister had been opposed to the NDA government’s talks with the NSCN(I-M), and constantly appealed for the inclusion of the other factions like the NSCN(K) and the Naga National Council, the latter being the parent organization of the other two.

The Congress has been shoved to an uncomfortable position by the fact that both parties facing each other at the negotiation table are opposed to it — the Centre to the party as a whole and the NSCN (I-M) specifically to Jamir. Both the regional parties and the underground outfits had boycotted the last assembly elections in 1998. Jamir took the walkover to complete a decade in government.

The previous tenure of the Congress, which began from 1993, was a disturbed one. Between 1987 and 1992, there were six governments and two spells of president’s rule. While both Jamir and his political rivals were responsible for the instability, the Centre too did not help matters by adopting an indifferent approach, except for stray attempts by P.V. Narasimha Rao and H.D. Deve Gowda.

The new chapter will be critical for both the Centre and the people of Nagaland, given the kind of expectations the peace talks have generated among the people. A large number of people joined the political exercise to be part of the latest attempt to resolve what is commonly termed “the Naga issue”.

There is still a question mark against the political settlement, as the Centre’s calculations towards peace in the region is still only midway. The NSCN(K) has already told the legislators of the Bharatiya Janata Party and the NPF to beware of the consequences of talking only to one outfit. The NSCN (I-M), on the other hand, is neither willing to include the NSCN(K) in the ongoing talks, nor keen to unite with it owing to “historical compulsions”.

There is one more area which the Centre has not paid enough attention to, and where doubts and insecurity lurk even after the current verdict. This involves the security forces, whose role has been to “enforce a ceasefire and exercise restraint at the same time”. Notably, the ceasefire has brought relative peace to the beleaguered state. “Our assessment says that if the Congress goes, the security forces will be alienated,” said a security force officer. At the root of the concern has been the inherent distrust of the NSCN(I-M) of the security forces despite statements from its leadership that there would be no more fighting between “India and the Nagas”.

Even after the polls, the feeling of apprehension persists in the cantonments around the state. There are also doubts about whether the entire Northeast would benefit from the success of the peace process in Nagaland. “Peace in Mizoram has not helped Manipur or Nagaland,” a senior Assam Rifles officer argued.

Notwithstanding the security forces’ concerns, the new leadership in the state says it is committed to bringing lasting peace to the state. The new leaders have also promised to speak to all the factions. If the government means what it says, and gets its promised support from the Centre, then many see reasons to hope. Provided, of course, that the stability which has been promised actually comes through. Only days after the portfolios were distributed, the Janata Dal (United), under the leadership of Huska Sumi, begun complaining about unfair distribution of ministries. The DAN leadership, therefore, has put the responsibility of allotments on veterans like Hokishe Sema locally while looking towards the NDA leaders for instructions to their local party units.

Many in the alliance now thank the Congress publication, The Bedrock of Naga Society, for carrying them to the new secretariat in Kohima. The booklet put a question mark on the very issue of sovereignty, giving an opportunity to the NPF and NGOs like the Naga Students Federation to make it a rallying point. The home minister in Jamir’s cabinet, in fact, resigned on September 20, 2002 citing the booklet as reason. Several others followed him out of the Congress, under the same pretext.

While this strengthened the election plank named the “Naga issue”, a greater role was played by the anti-incumbency factor. Several Congressmen admit that allegations of corruption against party members and complacency in the ranks hastened the defeat of the party.

When Jamir met reporters at his residence-cum-office after his party’s defeat, he stood his ground, insisting that the polls represented a war between the NSCN(I-M) and the Congress. He castigated the NPF and its leaders for unfair play, while many of his partymen held the decision to oppose the NSCN(I-M) responsible for the poll debacle.

The NPF has been a regional force since the Sixties, although it came to be known by its present name only since last October, when the then president, Huska Sumi, was replaced by the former chief minister, Vizol. While Vizol gave more credibility to the party before the polls, Sumi’s removal opened the chapter of the Janata Dal (United) in the state. The JD(U), has won three seats and is in a position to bargain.

The new government has a more even representation of the tribes. For instance, the Pochury tribe has got its first ever representation, while there was also been more representation from districts like Tuensang (six ministers) and Mon (five ministers).

Nagaland has almost suddenly become a rather coveted state, with a number of parties — most of them part of the NDA — trying to make inroads. Even Laloo Prasad Yadav was supposed to visit the state in December 2002. He did not, but the fact that the national mainstream flowed towards the easternmost state of the country has surprised many. The mingling with the mainstream was also evident on the day of the swearing-in ceremony as many new ministers dressed up in elegant Jodhpuris.

The parties contesting the elections this time also reflect the same trend of mainstream coming to the periphery. The BJP, Samata Party and the Nationalist Congress Party joined to form the DAN, led by the state’s oldest regional party, the NPF. But there were others like the Rashtriya Lok Dal, JD(U), and even the Trinamool Congress.

Right now, the concerns over peace and stability in the state have pushed back all others. And mere peace and stability will not do; it has to be what Jamir has described as “an honourable and acceptable political settlement involving all sections of the Naga people”.

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