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MLA to usher in change

Calcutta, March 21: In this Assembly election, like the last few times, there were some candidates who stood out as exceptions to the way politics is played out in Nagaland.

Of them, Merentoshi Jamir showed up as the youngest in the fray at 32. Since then he has been crossing a series of milestones.

He won the election from 25 Mongoya constituency to become the youngest MLA and now, inducted into the cabinet as the youth resources and sports and labour and employment minister, he has hit the spotlight as the youngest minister.

Such milestones, however, do not mean much to Jamir. “I did not join politics to set records. In fact I am surprised at the turn of events. But now that I am reminded of my age and the opportunities that I have been blessed with, I am determined to take full advantage of my youth to try and bring about changes in the state as we, the youth, see it,” he told The Telegraph.

The history of politics in the state and the way it functions at present, however, raises doubts about how much of his dream would turn real. According to the traditions of indigenous communities, which have a considerable influence on Nagaland politics, age and experience are important considerations for participation in governance.

Jamir, who went to St Paul’s School in Darjeeling before graduating with a degree in philosophy from Delhi’s St Stephen’s College, is aware of this hurdle. His tryst with politics is not a long one either.

The son of chief secretary Alemtemshi Jamir, he said because both his father and grandfather were government servants, he wanted to explore the private sector initially. So he set up Hornbill Finance Ltd, of which he was the executive director, and Look East Construction Private Ltd, of which he was the managing director. But recently he decided to join politics and now takes the history of the state, which stands against him, as a challenge. “The first and foremost challenge will be to not be treated as a child by the senior members of the ministry,” he said.

An important challenge before him will be to define the problems in policies and find solutions.

“It will be my endeavour to evolve a youth policy for the state, involving all the departments concerned and create appropriate institutions, forums and programmes to formulate schemes to address the needs of the youth, especially relating to livelihood, employment and future opportunities,” he said.

And for this, he believes, his education and exposure will stand him in good stead. Jamir was one of the two winning candidates this time who are alumni of St Stephen’s College. He was also the president of Ao Students Union, Delhi. “Education in a cosmopolitan city, university and college, that too, at a time when India was in the process of liberalisation, actually helped shape my decision to be in the private sector and eventually think of politics and public life,” he said.

Pointed out that Delhi of late has not been too kind to students from the Northeast, he admits that there are problems but is optimistic about the larger picture.

“The Naga students do, at times, face problems of not being completely accepted by the local population, perhaps, because of our facial features that are more Oriental than the general perception of what an Indian looks like. But I have personally not faced any problems,” he said.

He added that it was really unfortunate that in a city, which offers so many good working opportunities and friends to the people of the Northeast, there have been quite a few “alarming incidents” affecting the people of the region.

He is an active member of a group on Facebook called The Naga Blog and is in full support of online pro-activism. In fact he intends to steal enough time from cabinet meetings to go online. “The Naga Blog started by Yanfo Kikon, a childhood friend, has opened my eyes to many issues and I intend to be networked so that my policies can be broad based and participatory,” he said.