The unprecedented and eerie quiet that marked the election process in Nagaland has sociologists worried, especially after a low voter turnout on Wednesday contrary to official claims of 80 per cent plus. Initial investigations point to the ‘modi’ factor. While the word ‘modi’ (which in Angami Naga dialect means large chunk of cooked bovine meat) usually would make mouths water, the Gujarati manifestation of it has the Nagas in tears these days.
The pot-holed streets of Nagaland sported a deserted look a day after people here grudgingly exercised their franchise even as political parties and their supporters continued to choke traffic nationwide while beefing up their respective vote-banks for the crucial Modi-Sabha Elections 2014. Investigation into the mystery has revealed that industrious Naga men and women of Nagaland are engaged indoors in preparation for ‘doomsday’ after media reported the bonhomie shared by their Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio with his Gujarat counterpart, vegetarian Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi, who has tipped himself to be the next prime minister of India. While the Naga aam admi would otherwise not lose much sleep over who gets to head the chaotic country of billions, what has them worried this time around is the impending ban on beef consumption once Modi takes over the reins of the country as its charioteer.
Incidentally, Rio and Modi share the distinction of being the only two chief ministers to be in the running for Parliament.
It has been reported that Naga men and women are working at a furious pace – the males busy carving out secret chambers in their homes to stash away the beef and females busy drying and pickling the red meat for preservation. Unconfirmed reports also say that the richer lot have employed labourers to dig tunnels across districts to smuggle beef in the lean days ahead.
Narendra Modi’s oft-repeated stress on ‘protecting the Gau-Mata’ and banning cow slaughter has reportedly got Nagas in Nagaland worried sick with their chief minister signing his allegiance to the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance. Rumour mills are working overtime in Nagaland as people speculate what fate their palate would suffer. Restlessness has been growing since the rumour began doing rounds that Rio bargained for a cabinet berth by pledging to enforce ban on beef-consumption in his State.
Even before the Naga aam admi cast their vote, they were caught in a Catch-22 situation. If they did not vote Rio to the lone Lok Sabha seat, Nagaland would fall out of favour with the Centre in the most likely event of Modi becoming the PM. If they did vote for Rio, he might have to toe the line over grave issues like cow slaughter.
An amazing number of domestic tourists, who in their home towns and cities are forced to either adhere by the social norm of considering cows as just milch animals or are deprived due to non-availability of good beef, are also aghast at the possibility of a ban on beef in Nagaland. They plan to give the Hornbill Festival a miss this year if mouthwatering dishes like smoked beef in dry bamboo shoot, smoked beef in kochu and the all time favorite beef pickle are not on the menu along with the local brew.
Kitchens in Naga households, which usually echo with the sounds of laughter and endless chatter, now resound with strains of mourning and occasional sizzle made by pork and beef fats trickling down on the fire. It is being reported that the crisis has brought together members of families who now gather in the kitchen inadvertently by evening to sit around the hearth and sing songs of sadness as they watch the best cuts of beef roasting over the fire.
A fragmented and weary Nagaland State Congress, which giving a choice would have closed shop by now, had latched onto the issue a couple of weeks before the poll date and made another futile attempt to beef up their candidate’s chances. A Naga Congress leader reportedly had hundreds in tears after he warned them of the Nagaland Assembly emulating the law in Gujarat that protects the cow’s progeny and bans cow slaughter if Rio became a minister under the NDA government at the Centre.
Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio heads the Democratic Alliance of Nagaland (DAN) government. The Democratic Alliance of Nagaland spearheaded by Rio’s Naga People’s Front (NPF), single largest party in the State Assembly, comprises of BJP and JDU. A former Congressman himself, Rio has been instrumental in dislodging the Congress government in Nagaland in 2004 and subsequently dismantling the state unit of the Congress. With three consecutive victories in the Assembly elections – after barely surviving a coup during downsizing of ministry – Rio has now decided to graze on greener pastures sharing space with the ‘auspicious cow’.
The Cock – symbol of the erstwhile Nagaland People’s Front, now Naga People’s Front – had banished the long dominating Hand in the 2003 state polls. The victory came partly riding on the visit and promises of then Prime Minister of the NDA coalition, Vajpayee, and a pre-poll alliance with BJP in the state. But Rio, himself an avid meat lover, went chop chop after the Nagaland BJP with a meat cleaver in 2009, coercing its top leadership to serve him or be served empty naught. In 2004 BJP won unprecedented 7 seats but as Rio beefed himself up, BJP was decimated, managing just two seats in the next elections and then ending up with just one in the 2014 polls. After 10 years, now, NPF or rather DAN has rejoined the BJP led-National Democratic Alliance (NDA).
The NPF and DAN Coordination Committee have meanwhile rubbished reports of Neiphiu Rio agreeing to any pre-poll conditions in lieu of a cabinet berth. “Rio is of the Nagas, by the Nagas and for the Nagas. He loves beef as much as you all do,” assured the chief minister’s aide.
Rio in his recent address to the people of Nagaland urged Nagas not to be misled by ‘Congress propaganda’. “I assure you there will be no ban on cow slaughter and beef consumption in Nagaland. Nagaland enjoys special status under Article 371A and I will ensure that it is amended to exempt us from the cow-slaughter law. If all else fails, I will urge the NDA’s Home Minister to bring the ‘cow-slaughter’ issue under the purview of Naga Political Talks. And once that is done, we shall continue to relish beef for another decade.”
Speaking off the record, an NPF leader said “Gujarat and Nagaland already share a bond over both being Dry States. We shall further strengthen that bond by banning beef.”
Taking a swig from his glass of scotch, a veteran Naga politician quipped: “Does Nagaland look Dry in any way? Alcohol, albeit largely spurious, is flowing. Why then are people worried about beef? It might get banned but like alcohol, will always be available in abundance in the black market. Beeflegging makes more sense than bootlegging at least.”
(The above article is purely a work of satire and fiction)
The author is a journalist who grew up in Nagaland and worked in various Nagaland-based newspapers and magazines for about eight years. Currently Associate Editor of North East Sun magazine.