NPF does a Robert Bruce in Arunachal

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  • Published 9.04.14
Election officials and a jawan carry EVMs to the polling stations at Pasighat on Tuesday. Picture by UB Photos

A five-year wait, allegations of links with underground elements and a car burning goof-up — the entry of Naga People’s Front in Arunachal Pradesh has been marred with moments that have bordered on the fragile to the serious and even trod on the strange.

The NPF has fielded 12 candidates in the Assembly election, which is being held along with the election to the two Lok Sabha seats tomorrow. Election to 49 of the 60 seats will be held as 11 Congress candidates have already been declared winners uncontested.

In 2009, when the party wanted to expand its wings in Arunachal for the state’s Assembly election, it was met with severe opposition, most notably from the powerful All Arunachal Pradesh Students Union (AAPSU).

However, back then the Election Commission did not permit the party to contest the polls for failing to change its name from Nagaland People’s Front to the present Naga People’s Front.

Having made a slight alteration to its name, the NPF in 2011 formally opened its offices in Arunachal and Manipur.

While it was always expected that the party would first set foot in the Naga-dominated districts of Manipur, in Arunachal, the NPF was still an enigma about which most people spoke only in vague and unfamiliar terms.

This arose from the fact that even today most people in Arunachal know very little about the three districts of Tirap, Changlang and Longding and the people of Nocte, Wanchu, Tangsa, Tutsa and Ollo tribes, who are classified as “any Naga Tribe” in the Constitution. But as reports of Naga-insurgent activities began to surface over the years people from other parts of the state got curious about the region tucked away in eastern Arunachal bordering Assam, Nagaland and Myanmar, and so did the NPF.

After the initial hurdle the party faced in 2009, its electoral dreams were jolted once again last year when the state election commission turned down its plea to get registered as a “state party”, making it impossible for it to contest the panchayat election.

Undeterred, the party forged ahead and announced its plans to contest the 2014 elections in Arunachal. It was a decision that did not go down well with another students’ organisation, the Students’ Union Movement of Arunachal Pradesh (Suma).

Formed in 2013, Suma quickly gained a name for itself by taking up controversial and headline-grabbing issues. One of its pet peeves has been to try and block the entry of the NPF in Arunachal Pradesh.

It has claimed that the entry of the NPF in the state will invariably lead to deteriorating law and order situation, especially in the three districts of Tirap, Changlang and Longding.

In January this year, some Suma members even confronted an NPF delegation that had arrived to hold a press conference in the state capital. But things really turned volatile when some of them set fire to a car bearing a Nagaland registration on April 2 mistaking it to be of an NPF worker. Later it turned out that the car actually belonged to a central NCP observer who was in Itanagar to oversee poll preparations for the party.

The NPF has also faced opposition from various tribal forums of Arunachal, who fear that its entry will result in Naga underground elements getting a free hand to operate in the state.

In 2009, the AAPSU president had questioned why the party was not trying to establish a pan-Arunachal identity by looking to participate outside the three districts if it had no “ulterior motives”.

The party has fielded 12 candidates for the Assembly polls this year, five in the Assembly constituencies falling under the Arunachal West Parliament seat and seven in Arunachal East where it hopes to secure most votes. While no one realistically expects the party to win any seats, its entry marks the beginning of a new controversial chapter in Arunachal’s political landscape.